On Tuesday, state attorneys general met with Attorney General Jeff Sessions to discuss strategies to rein in Big Tech companies like Google and Facebook by using anti-trust laws. The team behind “The Creepy Line,” a new documentary about Big Tech, praised the meeting as vital, and argued that Google and Facebook brought this meeting on themselves.
“Google and Facebook have brought this meeting between the Department of Justice and several attorneys general on themselves,” New York Times bestselling author Peter Schweizer, writer and producer of “The Creepy Line,” said in a statement Tuesday. “With documented bias that has harmed consumers, Google’s abuse of the public trust has impacted users of all political stripes, and the recent leaked emails show them considering putting their finger on the scale on important national debates.”
Schweizer was referring to one email revealing a Google executive bragging about helping to increase the Latino vote, assuming Latinos would vote for Hillary Clinton, and another series of emails showing Google employees scheming about how to tweak the search engine function to harm Trump’s travel ban.
“Because of these documented problems, Google, Facebook, and other Internet platforms warrant closer scrutiny from government and non-government organizations,” Schweizer declared.
He further warned about an earlier leaked video in which “Google leadership and employees expressed their desire to use their platform to ‘spread our company’s values.’ With control over 90% of searches, they have the ability to do it.”
Finally, Schweizer cited the work of Ph.D. psychologist Robert Epstein, who revealed that “Google and Facebook have the ability to manipulate and bias the information we see without us even knowing it. This is not only creepy, it’s dangerous. And, it’s time all of us took a closer look at these companies, their capabilities, and their goals.”
Epstein, senior research psychologist at the nonpartisan American Institute for Behavioral Research and Technology and author of 15 books and more than 300 articles on Internet influence and other topics, also emphasized the importance of the meeting.
“Randomized, controlled, peer-reviewed research I have been conducting since 2013 has repeatedly demonstrated the unprecedented power that Big Tech companies — Google, in particular — have to shift opinions and votes on a massive scale,” Epstein said in a statement. “My research suggests, for example, that Big Tech companies can shift upwards of 12 million votes in the November, 2018, election without people knowing they are being manipulated.”
More terrifying, “these manipulations use ephemeral content — short-lived content that is generated ‘on the fly’ — [so] they also leave no paper trail for authorities to trace.”
Epstein’s research has shown that the search engine manipulation effect (SEME) “can easily shift the voting preferences of at least 20 percent of undecided voters — up to 80 percent in some demographic groups.” “The Creepy Line” presents his research suggesting that Google’s bias in 2016 likely gave Hillary Clinton her victory in the popular vote.
“With no restrictions on such manipulations, I believe that the free-and-fair election is now little more than an illusion,” Epstein added, forebodingly.
Matthew Taylor, director of “The Creepy Line,” called the meeting between the Department of Justice and state attorneys general “long overdue.”
“One thing has become abundantly clear to me over the past year in the process of making ‘The Creepy Line’: Google and Facebook have far too much power and influence over what we see on the Internet,” Taylor declared. “Their ability to manipulate what and how information is shared is a real threat to the free market and our democracy.”
The director admitted that “people may have signed-up for Google and Facebook, but I don’t think they believed they were signing-up to have all their information gathered and used to manipulate them toward favoring one product over another or one candidate over another.”
While people may not have knowingly given Google and Facebook this power, “when companies like Google and Facebook control so much data and how that information is shared, that’s exactly what they have the capacity to do and do it without us knowing about it,” the director explained.
“No one should have that much power,” Taylor said.
While a governmental response to this situation may seem warranted, many have warned that regulations on Big Tech will have perverse effects.
Casey Mattox, senior fellow for free speech and toleration at the Charles Koch Institute (CKI), warned PJ Media against the “growing appetite on the Right for federal legislation and executive action.”
“Content moderation on the level of a Facebook, Twitter, YouTube is way more difficult than people assume, walking into it,” Mattox told PJ Media. “If you have any kind of federal answer that ends up mandating a certain kind of algorithm, how do you create a new website, new competitors?”
“That’s how you get Mark Zuckerberg forever in power,” he warned. “If you have a government mandate that tells me how you have to moderate your content, I can’t create an alternative.”
That said, anti-trust may present the right way to respond to Big Tech’s terrifying power. Facebook owns Instagram, Google owns YouTube, and Twitter owns Periscope. Breaking up these companies may lessen their power, without unleashing too many perverse effects.
The results of Sessions’ meeting with state AGs may not be known for days or weeks after the meeting, but the meeting still represents a big step in this direction.
The response to Big Tech is by no means limited to this meeting, however. Various state AGs have already taken action, and a former Reagan lawyer — who broke up AT&T — has also filed suit against Apple, Facebook, Google, and Twitter for anti-trust violations.
This past Friday, Jerry A. Johnson, president and CEO of National Religious Broadcasters, set a deadline of December 31. If Big Tech companies do not stop censoring conservative and Christian content by that day, or if they have not presented a First Amendment free speech policy, Johnson will lead a political effort to remove Big Tech’s immunity from liability for speech on their platforms.
Follow the author of this article on Twitter at @Tyler2ONeil.