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."
The views expressed in this video are solely those of John Stossel; his independent production company, Stossel Productions; and the people he interviews. The claims and opinions set forth in the video and accompanying text are not necessarily those of Reason.