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Free Minds & Free Markets

Stossel: Does Silicon Valley Manipulate Users?

New film The Creepy Line argues that tech giants sometimes silence conservatives and try to steer America left.

Leaked emails show some Google engineers blaming their company for Trump's 2016 win, suggesting that the site should censor outlets like The Daily Caller and Breitbart.

Google says the company never did that, but for many people, it raises the question: could Google executives flip an election?

"Google's senior management was heavily in favor of Hillary Clinton," The Creepy Line writer Peter Schweizer tells John Stossel. "Their ability to manipulate the algorithm is something that they've demonstrated the ability to do in the past...and the evidence from academics who monitored 2016 was clearly that they did."

Schweizer's film features psychologist Robert Epstein, whose research claimed that people rated Google's top search results in 2016 as more positive to Hilary Clinton than to Donald Trump.

Stossel says that it doesn't prove that Google's results were biased. It may just be that major media outlets ran more positive headlines about Clinton, and since Google's results rely on the major media, that would bring more positive Clinton headlines, even without any bias on Google's part.

Even if Google's search algorithm is fair, major social media outlets do manipulate us by determining what we can not see.

The film plays a clip of psychologist Jordan Peterson, who points out: "They're not using unbiased algorithms to do things like search for unacceptable content on twitter and on YouTube and on Facebook–those aren't unbiased at all. They're built specifically to filter out whatever's bad."

Stossel notes that Google and Facebook employ human content monitors, some of whom despise conservatives, to determine what is "bad."

Peterson himself has reason to worry. After he criticized a Canadian law that would mandate use of people's preferred pronouns (like "ze" or "xir"), Google briefly shut down Peterson's YouTube channel. They even blocked him from his own Gmail account.

"That's a real problem," says Peterson. "You come to rely on these things and when the plug is pulled suddenly then that puts a big hole in your life."

Stossel wonders: what can consumers do about possible social media manipulation or censorship? One speaker in Schweizer's film says, "delete your accounts!" Stossel tells Schweizer: "I don't want to delete my accounts–and you can't, without cutting yourself off from much of the best of the world."

Schweizer admits that it's a challenge, but says he's switched to Google's competitors.

For simple searches, Schweizer uses DuckDuckGo.com instead of Google.

For email, Schweizer uses the encrypted service ProtonMail.com, based in Switzerland, rather than Gmail.

The web browser Brave provides an alternative to Google's Chrome. Brave was founded by Brendan Eich, who created the browser Firefox but was then forced to leave his own company because he once donated to a ballot proposition against gay marriage.

But most people won't switch. Stossel hasn't switched. He wonders if a few individuals switching will change much.

"That's all we have? A pathetic act that won't make any difference?" he asks.

Schweizer replies: "If people make clear to Google that they don't like their manipulation, and they don't like their invasion of privacy ... they will be forced to make changes. That's part of the reason we love and support the market the way we do."

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  • $park¥ The Misanthrope||

    Don't be yet another John demanding government intervention.

  • Longtorso, Johnny||

    Yea, only the Chinese government gets to tell Google what to do.

  • $park¥ The Misanthrope||

    China imposes tariffs so the US should too. China regulates the Internet so the US should too. Let's be China.

  • damikesc||

    If your cell phone company decided to terminate any call that said anything they did not like, would you be OK with that?

    Why is it OK with Google here? Especially given their near monopoly power in searches.

  • $park¥ The Misanthrope||

    Yes, because there are other phone companies.

  • damikesc||

    Yet these companies seem to get on board with an idea really quickly.

    I mean, it took basically every social media company how long to shit Alex Jones off of all of their services?

  • $park¥ The Misanthrope||

    I don't believe I have the right to use someone else's service just because it exists. If they don't want my money then I won't give it to them.

  • damikesc||

    If they're using a spectrum you provide and an infrastructure you provide and a government to mediate conflicts that you provide --- yes, they have obligations to you as well.

    They can always eschew all courts for all issues if they so wish.

  • $park¥ The Misanthrope||

    Good job explaining why bakers must bake cakes, florists must provide arrangements, and photographers must provide pictures.

  • damikesc||

    Hardly. Tech companies are seeking to stifle speech. Activists are trying to compel speech.

    Both are abhorrent and should be met with extreme violence.

  • $park¥ The Misanthrope||

    It's the same argument which is why you have the same solution: force them to stop.

  • Zeb||

    Google isn't doing that. They could, and that would be bad. But it would also be bad for business.
    There is no shortage of right or libertarian content on Youtube or in Google searches and they sell tons of related ads.

    Their treatment of certain right-of-center content producers is indeed troubling. But they have hardly been silencing any and all points of view that they don't like. Maybe that's where they are going. But I don't think it's clear that it is.

  • damikesc||

    They sell less and less and are getting demonetized more and more frequently. So, no, there isn't plenty of right and libertarian content that are selling ads at all.

    They aren't "silencing" them. Just cutting off any ability to make any money off of it. While not doing the same to the Left.

  • Zeb||

    Well, could have fooled me. Seems like half of YouTube is "Dumb leftist pwned by so-and-so". There seem to be quite a few conservative channels doing quite well.

    I'm not saying Google is great and imposes no political bias. They clearly do. But so far I'm not seeing anything that convinces me that their intent is to silence all conservative or libertarian voices.

  • damikesc||

    Ask how many of the conservative video channels actually make a dime.

    Most have to engage in other merchandising to make some money because they make jack shit from YouTube due to demonetization. They also cannot rely on Patreon any more as Patreon ALSO refuses to work with people they dislike.

  • EscherEnigma||

    Legally speaking, probably okay.
    Morally speaking, not okay.

    But that's where market pressure comes in.

    That said, if you think phone service is too important to risk market pressure getting it wrong, then you're heading towards "public utility" territory. If that's where you want to go, then have at. But you should either stop fooling yourself or sop trying to fool others.

  • Sevo is my bitch||

    Of course. Libertarians head there as soon they are fucked over by Capitalism.

  • RockLibertyWarrior||

    @Sevo is my bitch are you really this fucking stupid? "Fucked over by Capitalism" more like fucked over by corporate socialism, people forget Google is given special subsidies and treatment from the GOVERNMENT. That isn't capitalism, dipwad.

  • Sevo is my bitch||

    They don't have a 21 trillion debt either.

  • perlchpr||

    Serious question, are there any cell phones available which aren't tied to either Google or Apple in some way?

  • damikesc||

    Basic phones, which barely exist. Otherwise, not really. Microsoft abandoned Windows Phone again.

    And it's not like Google isn't doing shit just to harm competitors, like making changes to YouTube to make it worse less effectively on non-Chrome browsers.

    MS got in tons of trouble for doing less.

  • MJBinAL||

    I recently had a conversation with the tech folks at Samsung. They said you can purchase any of their current phones direct from them unlocked and install Tizen, whuch is a Linux based phone operating system them support across the board.

    So the answer is yes, you can get away from Apple and iOS as well as Google and Android. This is what I intend to do for my next phone.

  • MJBinAL||

    Sorry, typo

    a Linux based phone operating system they (Samsung) support across the board

  • Sevo is my bitch||

    Yes, build your own grid and stay on it.

  • EscherEnigma||

    Yep.

    They're just less convenient.

  • Roger Knights||

    Amazon's unsuccessful smartphone from a year or two ago may still be available.

  • Ken Shultz||

    Apart from markets, which can make the idiot masses behave as if they were smarter than they are, there is no good substitute for critical thinking. And I have huge doubts about the ability of someone at Google to manipulate public opinion--certainly not by fiddling with the order of search results.

    How arrogant can people get? I'll tell you.

    Have you noticed that elitist progressives have been getting their asses handed to them all over the developed world? First, there was Brexit, then Donald Trump was elected, then Angela Merkel was kicked to the curb by a populist party, then Macron won because Marine Le Pen gained so much influence, and now Macron is dealing with the yellow jacket movement. The forces that are leading elitists to suffer at the hands of populists are happening all over the developed world for similar reasons, most of it having to do with immigration, opposition to the environmental radicalism of progressives, and the hostility elitists direct towards their own, economic displacement by trade with China, and homegrown versions of what here in the U.S. call the white, blue collar, middle class.

    And Google execs think they can bend those worldwide forces on the American electorate to their will by sinking the Daily Caller and others to the second page of search results?

    That's delusional arrogance.

  • EscherEnigma||

    Quite specifically, "Google execs" are not making that claim. It's other people claiming that Google can/is. But not Google itself.

    So it's not "delusional arrogance", it's "delusional paranoia".

  • NotAnotherSkippy||

    You mean aside from senior members of the google team actually discussing doing just that. So aside from being completely wrong, you got it right again.

  • EscherEnigma||

    I'm regularly expected to ignore what high-ranking members of conservative groups think when they say something that bothers me, and only pay attention to the company line which is more moderated, so I think precedent is with me here.

    That said, I quite specifically said "Google execs" (the term Ken used). Literally. So pointing at other people who aren't "google execs" to try to prove me wrong isn't, well, right.

  • mtrueman||

    "First, there was Brexit, then Donald Trump was elected, then Angela Merkel was kicked to the curb by a populist party"

    Been following the news? Big demonstrations against Hungary's Orban regime for its new law allowing companies, including foreign companies, to defer overtime payments to employees for several years. Orban was the original Trump, posing as a right wing populist who blamed immigrants for society's ills. Now it seems the chickens, home to roost, are coming.

    "And Google execs think they can bend those worldwide forces on the American electorate to their will by sinking the Daily Caller and others to the second page of search results?"

    Not just Google, but Facebook and the GRU as well as anyone else who has a stake in election results and the money and time to game the system(s).

  • Ken Shultz||

    Your contextual reference is slipping again.

    The point is that there were social forces at loose in the world that something like search results couldn't possibly have thwarted.

    And a populist who isn't populist enough does absolutely nothing to dispel that notion.

    I wasn't telling you about Brexit, Trump, Le Pen, Merkel and Macron as weathervanes of what's happening on the ground. Adding Hungary to the mix doesn't take anything away from my point. But I doubt you know what my point is even after this explanation. You probably still think it's about Brexit, Trump, Le Pen, Merkel and Macron somehow. It isn't.

    It's what those people tell us about what's really happening on the ground and why the ranking of Google results couldn't possibly be as influential against such dramatic worldwide forces as they imagine.

  • mtrueman||

    "The point is that there were social forces at loose in the world that something like search results couldn't possibly have thwarted."

    How can you say that? You live in a country where the second place finisher in a presidential election can get the job. Fraud, tampering and vote rigging are common place. That wouldn't happen unless the rigging is efficacious. Companies run by serious people put money and other resources into google's targeted advertising. Are you saying they're wasting their money? Maybe so but I'd defer to their judgement as they've actually got skin in the game, (a stake) and not just bloviating commenters like ourselves.

  • Stevecsd||

    The first place finisher in the votes in the ELECTORAL COLLEGE won the election. Which is how the Constitution defines how we choose a president. If you're going to play the game (HRC & mrtrueman) know the rules. Popular vote doesn't count.

  • Stevecsd||

    The first place finisher in the votes in the ELECTORAL COLLEGE won the election. Which is how the Constitution defines how we choose a president. If you're going to play the game (HRC & mrtrueman) know the rules. Popular vote doesn't count.

  • JFree||

    hahaha. And of course those forces of populism have no elements of mass manipulation at all.

  • Ken Shultz||

    Yes, that's exactly what I said.

    Except for the part where I didn't say that at all.

  • mtrueman||

    You're saying there are 'forces,' like the urge to demonize foreigners, that are so powerful they can't be thwarted by the wealthy, even using internet technology. I'm saying you haven't made that argument.

  • Sevo is my bitch||

    Use duckduckgo you fascist!

  • RockLibertyWarrior||

    Sevo is my bitch is saying "Derpity derp, if you don't use leftard google then your a mean, Nazi bully derpity derp derp DERP!" Crawl back into your commie leftard hole, fucktard.

  • JFree||

    If people make clear to Google that they don't like their manipulation, and they don't like their invasion of privacy ... they will be forced to make changes. That's part of the reason we love and support the market the way we do.

    This seems like an 18th century notion of free will pretending it can impose its own control over a 21st century world while ignoring the historical reality of the 20th century. It's naive in the worst sense - delusional and ignorant.

    That 18th century notion led to an explosion in scientific knowledge - knowledge about ourselves, our brains, our motivations. Said knowledge was used - by those so inclined to use it that way - to manipulate our brains - to 'manufacture our consent' (to use a phrase by Lippmann in his 1922 Public Opinion) - to undermine that 'free will' cuz scientifically - there is no evidence that we have any more free will than a dog or a rabbit - though perhaps more than a banana.

    duckduckgo, protonmail, etc are not competition to google. Google = submit to manipulation in exchange for free trinkets. The only potential competition to google is a different business model that can provide MORE revenue/profit for the business providing those free trinkets. That is nowhere on the horizon.

  • CE||

    Nothing "silicon" about software companies.

  • Robert Crim||

    I've been thrown off of Twitter TWICE -- once for asserting my rights under the Second Amendment and once for calling Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez a thief in politician's clothing. Any claim by @Jack Dorsey that Twitter isn't doing this IS A LIE!

    My position is that Twitter does not have such censorship authority. While it undoubtedly owns the underlying advertising platform, the communications channels it invites users to create, to give the ad platform value, clearly belong to the creators, viz., the users, themselves.

    The behavior of @Jack Dorsey's employees are tortious; and, if it costs him half a million dollars a pop in damages and lawyers' fees to answer such claims, the practice will cease.

    Who's with me?

  • ||

    Of course Google can manipulate search results. See : GOOGLE'S CLEVER PLAN TO STOP ASPIRING ISIS RECRUITS.
    See: https://goo.gl/EKcSFk

    Overall, I am in favor of making it hard to find Islamist propaganda, but this is a slippery slope.

  • Sevo is my bitch||

    Libertarian Stossel wants governmental regulation of private companies.

    Apparently, Capitalism just does not work when lefty communist corporations succeed more than any conservative klan can.

  • C. S. P. Schofield||

    Well, the issue here is that Google has government protection from being defined as a 'common carrier'. This, as I understand it, says that since the do not edit the content posted on their service, they cannot be sued for it. Well and good, so long as they do not, in fact, edit the content posted on their service. This appears to not be the case. Which, in turn, means that their protection should be removed. That wouldn't be government regulation so much as removal of regulation.

    The 'Common Carrier' protection make sense...for services that qualify. If Google (and other Social Media companies) no longer qualifies they should lose the protection...or be told that if they continue to edit, they will lose it soon.

  • RockLibertyWarrior||

    @Sevo is my bitch being a fucking retard again. Nothing new here, google gets tax breaks, regulation breaks and subsidies from the government, dumb ass shit head, do some research. Just a FYI, people are using other platforms because their sick of people like you who run these companies and want to shut people up who are smarter than them. Is it hard being this fucking stupid everyday of your life?

  • markm23||

    Can you give a citation to those tax breaks? Is there anything only Google gets, or are they (a) deducting expenses and depreciating assets, like every other business, or (b) the state and local tax breaks that cities keep granting to all kinds of large corporations in an effort to compete with other cities in getting the corporations to relocate major operations. I think the latter breaks unfairly favor huge businesses over small businesses, are often unwise on the part of the cities granting them, and probably add nothing to the economy as a whole while often reducing the capacity of cities to fix the roads and fight crime, but they are nothing unusual and Google would have to be stupid to not grab what is offered.

  • DrT||

    Just on the search engine issue, DuckDuckGo is an excellent search engine. In my experience the results are not as biased as Google. I'll never use Google again.

  • Lester224||

    The libertarian response is to use the power of your wallet, not regulation.

    Here's a question: Why are rich techies and young, smart techies mostly liberal now? Is it because they have high IQs? Are they brainwashed by their liberal college professors? They don't watch enough Fox News and read the New York Times? STEM now attracts liberals? I went to engineering school at U.C. Berkeley. The engineering school itself was very a-political.

  • Sandab||

    Google search result rankings take into account CTR and bounce rate. This means if the audience is predominantly liberal in search of liberal opinions these will be ranked higher. It simply biases to the preference of its audience, so will come to reflect it. It has no way of distinguishing a "good" ranking from a "biased" one, as far as its ranking is concerned the two are exactly the same. So, yes, it's inherently biased to meet the desires of the majority of its users. And if the majority is liberal it means its rankings will favor liberals. If a majority of its users were conservatives, or libertarians, then conservative or libertarian voices would rank at the top. In addition, because it ranks the voices reflecting the majority of its users the highest it adds barriers to minority opinions (among its users) in that they have to go to page 3 or 5 or 11 to find what they're looking for and so will likely form the opinion that it's a liberal propaganda machine and stop using it, further skewing and narrowing its audience and rankings.

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