Google is the EU Remain campaign's secret weapon

Ad-slinger quietly pushes pro-Brexit views down its results


Google has demoted the site EU Referendum to “below the fold” in searches for the term “EU referendum”, where it isn’t visible to most web surfers unless they scroll down.

The political site, which was founded by author and researcher Richard A.E. North in 2004, was the top search result for the topical expression across all the major search engines for a decade.

At Google, the site has been demoted to 10th (or 13th, depending on how you count it) for the search term, with links to the BBC and the pro-EU Guardian newspaper ranking higher. North’s site still ranks No.1 for the same term over at Yahoo! and Bing.

Google dominates the market with over 90 per cent share of search engine traffic in Europe.

The No.1 ranking search result on average receives 33 per cent of the traffic generated from a search, studies have found, a number which diminishes rapidly as the ranking falls. Sites in 10th place receive only around 2.4 per cent.

Europhile newspaper the Financial Times ranked EUreferendum.com as the most influential British political blog in 2006, and the site kept its top spot in the search results even after a domain move.

The dramatic fall in EU Referendum’s search ranking, in the absence of a broader change in the algorithm, points to manual intervention.

About EU Referendum

North is the co-author of four books on the EU along with Christopher Booker, the journalist and co-founder of Private Eye, in addition to two military histories. Most recently he developed the three step “Flexcit” strategy for exiting the EU (pdf): “The aim would be a community of equals in a ‘European village’, rather than a Europe of concentric circles, using the Geneva-based United Nations Economic Community Europe (UNECE). It would become the core administrative body, on the lines proposed by Winston Churchill in 1948 and again in 1950. Thus, the exit from the EU becomes the start of an ongoing process, the means to an end, not the end itself.”

North saves most of his ire for high profile Brexit campaigners who have failed to answer how the UK could plausibly leave, arguing the absence of a coherent exit plan only benefits the Remain campaign.

By email, North told us: "It is vital that people should realise Google's potential (or actual) power. What started out as a good working tool has gone the way of the rest - power corrupts and Google corrupts absolutely."

A Google spokesman denied there is any manual intervention in search results ranking.

Google's role in affecting the outcome of elections has been the subject of some recent academic debate.

“Google’s search algorithm can easily shift the voting preferences of undecided voters by 20 per cent or more – up to 80 per cent in some demographic groups – with virtually no one knowing they are being manipulated,” according to peer-reviewed work by psychologist Robert Epstein, that he described to Politico last year.

“America’s next president could be eased into office not just by TV ads or speeches, but by Google’s secret decisions, and no one – except for me and perhaps a few other obscure researchers – would know how this was accomplished.”

Facebook manipulated users in India’s 2012 election campaign without their knowing it, describing it for Nature as “A 61-million-person experiment in social influence and political mobilization” (pdf). ®

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