Web spammers are individuals who attempt to manipulate the structure of the Web in such a way that a search engine (SE) will give them higher ranking location (and thus, greater visibility) in search results than what they would get without manipulation. Typically, Web spammers aim to promote their own financial, political or religious agendas exploiting the trust that users associate with SE query results. Over the last ten years, search engines have taken steps to defend against spammers with some success. Arguably, Web spamming is crucial during election times, when voters are likely to use search engines to get information about electoral candidates. At times of elections, spammers could succeed in spreading propaganda manipulating SE query results of candidates’ names. In a symmetric but, arguably, less likely scenario, SEs might influence elections by manipulating their own results to favor one candidate over another. In fact, some have suggested that SEs (Google in particular) should be proactively regulated to avoid such a possibility. In this paper, we investigate to what degree the SE query results related to searches of electoral candidates names were altered by anyone (Web spammers or SEs) during the 2016 US congressional election, an election that saw the rise of “fake news” sites. Our results indicate that different SEs had different degree of success defending against spammers: Google gave preference to reliable sources in the first 6 of the top-10 search results when queried with the name of any electoral candidate. Also, Google did not allow much variation in the ranking of the top-10 results and did not allow “fake news” sites to appear at its organic results. Bing and Yahoo, on the other hand, did not have as good a record. This is even more apparent in the autocomplete box “suggest” options presented to the user while forming the query.
Metaxas, Panagiotis and Pruksachatkun, Yada (2017) "Manipulation of Search Engine Results during the 2016 US Congressional Elections." In: Proceedings of the ICIW 2017, Venice, Italy.