Tennessee Dem Asks Google CEO to Probe 'Overuse of Conservative News Organizations' in Search Results

Google CEO Sundar Pichai appears before the House Judiciary Committee on Dec. 11, 2018. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)

WASHINGTON — Google CEO Sundar Pichai told the House Judiciary Committee today that the company’s own studies show results offered in the search engine’s top-news category “have a wide variety of sources including sources from the left and sources from the right — and we have committed to making sure there are diverse perspectives.”

Pichai also told lawmakers that different ad rates for different candidates don’t stem from bias, but results from “keywords which are of particular interest, and the market determines that.”

“So it’s essentially a supply-demand equilibrium,” he said. “It can lead to difference in rates, but it will vary from time to time.”

The CEO faced a wide range of grilling from Republicans and Democrats on a swath of issues ranging from privacy to the company’s plans in repressive China.

On the topic of Russia’s campaign influence operations, Pichai said the company has “undertaken a significant review of how ads are bought.”

“You know, we look for the origin of these accounts,” he explained. “We share and collaborate with law enforcement, other technology companies, and we essentially are investing a lot of effort and oversight in this area… protecting our elections is foundation to our democracy, and you have my full commitment that we’ll do that.”

Ranking Member Jerrold Nadler (D-N.Y.) asked the exec what Google is doing “to combat the spread of white supremacy and right-wing extremism across YouTube.”

“Congressman, YouTube is an important platform. We do want to allow for diverse perspectives and opinions, but we have rules of the road. We have clear content policies, and we have policies against many categories, and we are transparent about these policies. And you know, and when we find violations on our policies, we do remove those videos and handle content,” Pichai replied. “…We have policies against hate speech, and we clearly define them. And if we find any violations there, we do take down the content.”

Stating that “the muting of conservative voices by internet platforms has intensified especially during the presidency of Donald Trump,” Rep. Lamar Smith (R-Texas) asked Pichai what he was doing about conservative individuals and organizations having “their pro-Trump content tagged as hate speech or had their content reduced in search results” or “enforcement of immigration laws has been tagged as hate speech as well.”

“Providing users with high-quality, accurate and trusted information is sacrosanct to us. It’s what our principles are and our 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,” Pichai responded. “…We evaluate our studies to evaluate our search results. Today we use very robust methodology and we have been doing this for 20 years. Making sure the results are accurate is what we need to do and we work hard to do that.”

“Also, to my knowledge, you’ve never sanctioned any employee for any type of — for manipulating the search results whatsoever. Is that the case?” Smith asked.

“It’s not possible for an individual employee or groups of employee to manipulate our search results,” Pichai said.

Rep. Steve Chabot (R-Ohio) said later in the hearing, “I know Google’s attitude, the algorithm made us do it, but I don’t know that I buy that. How do you explain this apparent bias on Google’s part against conservative points of view, against conservative policies? Is it just the algorithm or is there more happening there?”

“Congressman, I understand the frustration at seeing negative news, and I see it on me on Google. There are times you can search on Google, and page after page there’s negative news, which we reflect, but what is important here is we use a robust methodology to reflect what is being said about any given topic at any particular time, and we try to do it objectively using a set of rubrics,” Pichai told him. “It is in our interest to make sure we reflect what’s happening out there in the best objective manner possible. I can commit to you, and I can assure you we do it without regards to political ideology. Our algorithms have no notion of political sentiment in them.”

Rep. Steve Cohen (D-Tenn.) accused the Google chief of “overly using conservative news organizations on your news.”

“This weekend I was on MSNBC four times, and yet the first thing that comes up is The Daily Caller, not exactly a liberal, but I guess well-known group, then Roll Call, then Breitbart News, then the Memphis Business Journal, then Breitbart News, then Breitbart,” Cohen said. “…I’d like you to look into overuse of conservative news organizations to put on liberal people’s news on Google.”

“I can assure you we do this in a neutral way,” Pichai said. “And we do this based on that specific keyword, what we are able to access the most relevant information.”

“I’m sure you try to, but it’s hard for me to fathom being on MSNBC for like eight minutes each show, four times, and there’s more content on Breitbart News than MSNBC,” Cohen replied. “That might say something about–well I’m not going to say that. Scary.”