After Rep. Lamar Smith (R-TX) asked Google CEO Sundar Pichai about reports of Google’s bias against conservatives during Pichai’s hearing in front of the House Judiciary Committee, Tuesday, Pichai denied any bias, dodged questions, and claimed human employees were unable to manipulate algorithms.
“Google has revolutionized the world, though not entirely in the way I expected. Americans deserve the facts objectively reported,” declared Rep. Smith. “The muting of conservative voices by platforms has intensified, especially during the presidency of Donald Trump. More than 90 percent of all Internet searches take place on Google or its subsidiary YouTube, and they are curating what we see.”
“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 continued. “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. Dr. Robert Epstein, a Harvard-trained psycologist authored a study recently that showed Google’s bias likely swung 2.6 million votes to Hillary Clinton in the 2016 election. 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.”
Smith then asked, “In your opening statement you mentioned your desire to provide information that was without political bias. Clearly that’s not working. So, what are you going to do to improve that situation?”
“Some of the studies you mention, we have investigated those… We found issues with the methodology and the sample sizes and so on, but let me step back and say providing users high quality and trusted information is sacrosanct to us,” replied Pichai. “It’s what our principles are, under business interests, our natural long-term incentives are aligned with that. We want to serve users everywhere and we need to earn their trust in doing so.”
The two then continued to have a back and forth conversation about Google’s bias, which resulted in Pichai dodging most of the questions and denying human employees can manipulate algorithms.
Pichai said, “It is not possible for an individual employee or groups of employees to manipulate our search results. We have a robust framework, including many steps in the process.” Smith disagreed, saying: “I disagree, I think humans can manipulate the process. It is a human process at its base.”
SMITH: “So what actions are you going to take to try to counter the political bias and some of those examples I just gave? I mean, they’re irrefutable, so it occurs, you have to take some responsibility for that bias. What do you intend to do about it?”
PICHAI: “Congressman, with respect, Dr. Epstein’s study, we have investigated. We don’t agree with the methodology… When we look at it we evaluate our search results. Today we use a very robust methodology and we have been doing this for twenty years. Making sure the results are accurate is something we need to do and we work hard to do that.”
SMITH: “What does methodology have to do with the fact that 96 percent of the references to Trump are from liberal media?”
PICHAI: “There are always studies that can show one set of data and arrive with conclusions, but we have looked at results on our top news category, we find that we have a wide variety of sources, including sources from the left and sources from the right, and we are committed to make sure there’s diverse perspectives.”
SMITH: “By the way, the study I referred to was done by a self-proclaimed Democrat who voted for Hillary Clinton and said he regretted to find what he found but he felt it was irrefutable and no one has been able to disprove him… Clearly there may be a difference of opinion as to the degree or amount of political bias. Would you allow an independent entity to study your search results for political bias?”
PICHAI: “Congressman, if I may make two points. One is, today there have been independent third-party studies looking at Search results…”
SMITH: “But you chose those third parties. I’m talking about someone truly independent.”
PICHAI: “We didn’t choose those third parties. They completed those studies. Second is, we are transparent as to how we evaluate Search. We publish our[…] guidelines. We publish it externally… We are trying hard to understand what users want, and this is something important for us to get right.”
SMITH: “To my knowledge, you’ve never sanctioned any employee for manipulating search results whatsoever. Is that the case?”
PICHAI: “It is not possible for an individual employee or groups of employees to manipulate our search results. We have a robust framework, including many steps in the process.”
SMITH: “I disagree, I think humans can manipulate the process. It is a human process at its base.”
The reports that Smith cited can be read at Science Magazine and PJ Media.
Charlie Nash is a reporter for Breitbart Tech. You can follow him on Twitter @MrNashington, or like his page at Facebook.