This article appeared in Campaigns & Elections on November 22, 2019 and is written by Mark Jablonowski & Eli Kaplan of DSPolitical.
While the American people are fixated on impeachment hearings featuring members of Congress and witnesses debating who interfered in the 2016 election, companies like Google are making moves that could tip the scales more heavily for Donald Trump than anything the Russians did in the last presidential election.
This week the search engine giant announced it would stop political campaigns from targeting voters with ads based on their voting habits and other attributes. Unfortunately, these changes won’t stop the cyberwar tactics of our adversaries abroad or politicians who run demonstrably false ads that undermine our democracy.
Google may be a household name to many, but it’s a pretty small slice of the Internet and paid ads are an even smaller slice than the content that they seek to monetize. If Google was serious about helping our electoral system, it would announce major changes to their engagement algorithms that promote harmful content and debunked conspiracy theories in search results.
The announced changes will not stop microtargeting because marketers will just move their ad dollars to other platforms, like Facebook, that permit precise targeting. But make no mistake, if others in Silicon Valley follow the company’s lead, it’ll have a chilling effect on our political discourse.