Machines and the tools we use to manipulate them are being used by all sorts of powerful actors, from hackers to corporations to political operatives to wealthy people, according to a study by Princeton University.
The researchers found that the use of computers to spread disinformation has become part of the norm for campaigns in an effort to win elections.
“It’s just not that uncommon for people to use tools, either to try to influence voters or to try and spread disinformation,” said Princeton political scientist Christopher Ries, who co-authored the study.
“I think that’s a big problem.
It’s like, oh my God, I’m going to need an algorithm.”
In the study, published Tuesday in the journal Science, researchers looked at data from a series of elections from more than 20 states that had been contested.
They found that in a handful of states, like Iowa, the machines were used to spread misinformation about political candidates.
In two others, the computers were used in the same manner.
The findings suggest that the machines can be used to manipulate elections and, as such, could play a key role in shaping how people vote.
In Iowa, for example, the researchers found the machines did not influence the outcome of the November election in any way.
In fact, they found that there was no statistically significant correlation between the machines’ use and the outcome.
In Pennsylvania, the machine’s presence in the voting booth was not enough to influence the results.
“The machines did very little to affect the outcome,” Ries said.
“They were used primarily to get the votes of Republican voters.”
The Princeton researchers, who have been studying how election systems work for years, are using their data to help guide public policy debates around the future of voting machines.
“When you think about machine-assisted voting and the threat of election fraud, the question arises whether machine-based voting technology has to be a good thing or a bad thing,” said Harvard professor Jonathan Gruber, who led the Princeton researchers.
“This paper suggests that it’s the former.”