As Google CEO Sundar Pichai testified before the House Judiciary Committee on Dec. 11, there was one recurring theme: denial. He danced and skirted around every question. But are any of us really surprised? The guy in charge of the world’s biggest internet information system would never admit to wrongdoing by his company. Even faced with emails and other “proof,” Pichai stayed true to course and rejected any accusations of censorship, development of secret programs for the Chinese, and a host of other allegations.
Dragonfly is a search engine reportedly being developed by Google for the Chinese; Pichai denied it is even being considered. Ryan Gallagher wrote in The Intercept that the search engine “would remove content that China’s authoritarian government views as sensitive, such as information about political dissidents, free speech, democracy, human rights, and peaceful protest.”
…frightening insight into Google’s underhanded censorship and ability to drive particular results.
“We were told to avoid referencing it around our team members, and if they ask, to deflect questions,” claimed one anonymous source for The Intercept. Employees also reportedly were ordered to delete a memo that revealed confidential information about the project.
The day after the 2016 election, a series of emails between top Google executives surfaced that provided frightening insight into Google’s underhanded censorship and ability to drive particular results. Google’s head of multicultural marketing, Eliana Murillo, described the search engine’s get-out-the-vote efforts, which, of course, Pichai denied.Google CEO Sundar Pichai
“We pushed to get out the Latino vote with our features in key states” and “We supported partners like Voto Latino to pay for rides to the polls in key states” were two statements Rep. Jim Jordan (R-OH) quoted as examples to the CEO.
“So your own head of multicultural marketing, who you praised her work in this email … was lying when she said you were trying to get out the Latino vote in key states?” Jordan asked.
“We didn’t do any such activity as Google in these key states. There are employees, I think they are – ” Pichai claimed before Jordan interrupted him, pressing the issue. The congressman asked if Google pushed to get the Latino vote out in all states.
“As Google we don’t have goals around pushing out to get any particular segment … we don’t participate in partisan activities. We engage with both campaigns; we support and sponsor debates across both sides of the aisle,” the CEO refuted the question. And he continued to dismiss all accusations, even when confronted with the evidence of emails and letters from Google employees claiming just the opposite. He would make a good politician, with his smooth-talking, circle-jerking rhetoric.
Employees Can’t Manipulate Algorithms
One of the biggest concerns is that Google employees are manipulating algorithms to censor online material, especially from conservatives. Rep. Lamar Smith (R-TX) spoke to Pichai during the hearing, saying:
“Google has long faced criticism for manipulating search results to censor conservatives. Conservative individuals and organizations have had their pro-Trump content tagged as ‘hate speech,’ or had their content reduced in search results. An enforcement of immigration laws has been tagged as hate speech as well. Such actions pose a grave threat to our democratic forum of government.” He added, “PJ Media found that 96 percent of search results for Trump were from liberal media outlets. In fact, not a single right-leaning site appeared on the first page of search results. This doesn’t happen by accident but is baked into the algorithms. Those who write the algorithms get the results they must want, and apparently management allows it.”
Smith went on to quote a study authored by Harvard-trained psychologist Dr. Robert Epstein that showed “Google’s bias likely swung 2.6 million votes to Hillary Clinton in the 2016 election.” Smith addressed Pichai:
“Google could well elect the next president with dire implications for our democracy. This should be a real concern to all but the most politically partisan. Those at the top set the tone. It will require a Herculean effort by the chief executive and senior management to change the political bias now programmed into the company’s culture.”
“It is not possible for an individual employee or groups of employees to manipulate our search results,” Pichai claimed.
“I disagree,” Smith retorted. “I think humans can manipulate the process. It is a human process at its base.” He continued to ask the CEO several times what the company planned to do to reverse the political bias, but Pichai evaded direct answers while continuing to deny bias.