Google Introduces New Features During Presidential Election Season

February 5, 2016
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image from http://searchengineland.com/
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Google recently announced a partnership with Fox News Channel in an effort to help voters make informed decision during the primary season. Implementing a set of new features, the search engine hopes to provide users with new applications and tools to help individuals stay informed about presidential politics as the 2016 campaign season moves forward.

Google introduces candidate cards

In a previous blog post, Google noted that political search interest spikes by 440 percent during televised presidential debates, as web users from across the United States seek additional information about the candidates and where they stand on the issues that matter most to voters.

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Taking this into consideration, Google announced that it would implement candidate cards, a function which allows candidates to speak directly to their audience in the Google’s Search Engine Result Pages (SERPs). Google has hopes that this new feature will allow the candidates to “share ideas and positions on issues they may not have had the chance to address during the debate,” thus leveling the playing field between candidates.

Greg Sterling of Search Engine Land noted that the results would appear in the same way that Twitter posts used to appear for candidate-related queries. He remarks that candidate cards offer more flexibility, however, giving candidates the ability to deliver their message in as many as 14,400 characters. Additionally, the candidates have the ability to curate which photos appear in the SERPs.

Google Trends highlights interesting search trends throughout debates

Google also unveiled that they would spotlight key insights from Google Trends throughout the debate, allowing users to view search trends that occur during the presidential debates. These insights allow users to view trending questions about candidates, search interest in individual candidates throughout the debate, and provide interactive maps which depicting the most searched candidate in counties across the country.

YouTube users join debate moderators

Social media played a critical role in the 2008 and 2012 elections. Larry Parnell, who directs George Washington University’s Strategic Public Relations Program, presented research which analyzed factors that influence public opinion during the 2012 presidential campaign. In particular, his research studied the effects of social media on public opinion, where he concluded that voters, particularly young voters, are more likely to trust information from social media rather than traditional news sources.

YouTube participation in political debates has been a way for candidates to make powerful connections with their voting demographic. Google started bringing new voices from YouTube users in the 2008 election, a practice the search engine plans to replicate this campaign season.  Google developers have provided three distinguished YouTube creators the opportunity to join the moderators of the debate. This allows the users to to ask the candidates questions about issues that matter most to the audiences they reach through YouTube.

Google will remind people to vote

image from http://searchengineland.com/
image from http://searchengineland.com/

Google announced in a separate blog post on February 2 that the application Google Now would keep users up-to-date on the latest election news. The note that the application is designed to send users helpful reminders, such as when and where to vote, as well as highlight the winners of local primaries as they happen in real time.  

User Response

Not all are thrilled with Google’s new features, and the candidate cards in particular have triggered dissent online.

“Google is compromising the future and development of political engagement online.” IVN contributor Edgar Wilson notes, “Relying on candidates for self-representation is a poor alternative to aggregating reporting, commentary, and the full record of their own comments arranged through Google’s traditional search mechanisms.” He goes on to argue that Google’s algorithm functions in such a way that the most authoritative content will appear first in the result pages, and because of this, the candidate card update detrimental to voters.

Additionally, Danny Sullivan of Search Engine Land point to the cards’ less than ideal reveal during January 28’s undercard debate, where Fiorina’s candidate card was the only one to appear in Google’s SERPs regardless of the candidate users searched for. He also critiques that many of the main candidates have used their newfound platform as a means of free advertising. Candidates like Ted Cruz and Marco Rubio have already used their candidate cards as a means to sell merchandise and ask for campaign donations.

Others have praised google’s initiatives, noting that the reminder to vote will be especially beneficial in reminding young voters–a demographic who generally don’t vote–to head to the polls. Greg Sterling also remarks that the candidate cards may be used as a means for voters and journalists to instantly fact-check candidates.

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