Dr. Robert Epstein, a psychologist who studies search engine manipulation effects (SEME), has warned that Facebook and Google could shift as many as 12 million votes in the 2018 midterm elections. A new Recode analysis of employee contributions at tech companies in the 2018 cycle revealed a massive disparity in favor of Democrats. Given recent news that Google attempted to interfere in political issues, this should concern Americans.
“If Silicon Valley were only selling shoes, I don’t think we should be worried,” Epstein told PJ Media on Thursday. “But what they are able to do, no industry in the history of humankind has ever been able to do. And therefore we should be very concerned.”
“We have strong evidence of partisanship, and they have access to tools for manipulating opinions and votes that we can’t even see,” the psychologist warned. In September, he published an article in The Epoch Times outlining 10 ways Big Tech can shift millions of votes — without anyone knowing. Google can impact opinion by placing search results, by offering search suggestions, and by censoring results. Facebook can bias its trending box and users’ news feeds, hide content, and send voter registration reminders.
Google employees have even referenced “ephemeral experiences,” showing that they know the kind of power they have. Tech companies have many opportunities to present to users unique experiences that have no record — users cannot trace them after the fact, so it is almost impossible to examine the full effect such content has.
Epstein has caught Google manipulating its search engine to favor political candidates in the past. His analysis of the 2016 election revealed that Google’s bias in Hillary Clinton’s favor was likely responsible for most of her win margin in the popular vote. He supported Clinton in that election, but he is far more concerned about the integrity of American elections.
“I think we should be very concerned,” Epstein told PJ Media. “I’m not a conservative but I’m very concerned with fairness in elections.” The impacts of companies like Facebook and Google “are invisible to people and they don’t leave paper trails.”
Besides Epstein’s results, Google employees have admitted to engaging in political manipulation. After the 2016 election, the company’s former head of multicultural marketing, Eliana Murillo, bragged about increasing Latino turnout in 2016. In September, The Wall Street Journal reported that Google employees tweaked the search engine function to counter President Donald Trump’s travel ban.
More chillingly, Epstein referenced an internal video Google developed known as “The Selfish Ledger,” a video revealing Google’s knowledge of just how much it can impact human behavior. This video “outlines and acknowledges the company’s ability to shape humankind,” the psychologist explained.
In light of all this, Recode’s report that employee donations from influential tech companies are heavily skewed toward Democrats should worry all Americans, not just Republicans. Recode’s Rani Molla analyzed data from the Center for Responsive Politics and found that employees from all sorts of technology companies donated heavily in favor of Democrats.
Netflix employees gave $321,000 to candidates, 99.6 percent of that to Democrats. Twitter workers gave $228,000 to candidates, 98.7 percent to Democrats. Apple employees gave $1,218,000 to candidates, 97.5 percent to Democrats.
Employees at Google and its parent company Alphabet gave $3,742 — 96 percent to Democrats. Workers at Facebook gave more than $1 million, 94.5 percent to Democrats. Amazon employees gave $971,000, 89.3 percent to Democrats.
Importantly, Recode noted that the political action committees for tech companies actually contributed more money to Republicans. This may not reveal any kind of bias, however, because corporate PACs tend to contribute to political incumbents regardless of political party. The contributions of employees, though not officially representative of the company, prove a better benchmark for the political climate of specific companies.
PJ Media has previously reported the partisan bent of employee contributions at Amazon, Apple, and Google. Epstein noted, “The 95 percent, that’s been pretty stable for a long time, going back to 2008.”
In addition to the bias that gave Clinton her popular vote margin, the psychologist mentioned a secretive “groundwork” campaign that “allowed Google to provide unlimited and endless technical support to Hillary Clinton’s campaign without violating regulations.”
As for Amazon, Epstein warned that the “Echo” devices “in people’s homes” are “in the game of influencing everything that people think.” Devices like the Echo give one answer for specific questions, influencing beliefs and voting patterns without people realizing it.
“We should all worry about activities of tech companies that are done in secret and that have the ability to shift opinions and votes in ways that people are unaware of,” Epstein explained. “In a very real sense, they are subliminal.”
While the psychologist does not identify as conservative, he referenced America’s founders in opposing the two-party system. “I am a moderate — I am with George Washington, John Adams, and Thomas Jefferson. I am strongly opposed to a two-party system because it muddles people’s thinking and it’s divisive.” He noted that the founders feared that a two-party system would be “devastating.”
Employees at tech companies are free to support whomever they want, but the extreme slant toward Democrats only entrenches the two-party system at the cultural, tech-influenced level.
“That should be something that concerns us,” Epstein noted. “It’s not 51 percent. Ninety-five percent is troubling.”
The psychologist did not pretend to be morally superior. “If I were any of those companies, and I could legally use my platforms to shift some votes, I would do so,” he confided. “I think anyone would.”
In order to combat this massive power imbalance, Epstein is setting up extensive monitoring systems. “I don’t see any means to counter these threats to free speech, to human autonomy, to democracy that are anywhere near as compelling as monitoring systems.”
Rather than fighting the power of Big Tech with regulation, anti-trust law, or other legal means, Epstein has set up a system of users who will record the data Amazon, Facebook, and Google give them, and keep tabs on what happens. He compared the system to Nielsen’s television ratings.
“We’re basically fighting tech with tech,” he said.
Epstein played a key role in the film “The Creepy Line,” which is available on Amazon Prime and iTunes. The film’s director, M.A. Taylor, also spoke with PJ Media about the impact of Big Tech’s partisan political donations.
“If everybody wants to donate in that direction, that’s their right, but it’s not their right to censor people,” to apply their bias to restrict the activities and the votes of others, Taylor told PJ Media on Thursday.
“I think it’s okay that they’re all Democrats, I just don’t think it’s okay when they have control over information systems,” Taylor explained.
Perhaps most terrifying, Taylor suggested that Facebook and Google could sway public opinion and elections — and “the employees may not even be aware of it.”
Taylor noted that many liberals seem to believe “if you voted for Trump, you’re a racist,” or “if you’re a Republican, you hate Jews.” He also lamented the temptation for conservatives to shoot back and brand Democrats “evil.”
“We need to get rid of that,” the director insisted. “Most people — Democrat or Republican — are normal people and don’t care.”
Taylor also emphasized that he and his fellow filmmakers do not demonize Facebook and Google, even though they note the tremendous power these companies have. “Google and Facebook did a lot of great things, and I think the technology’s fantastic,” the director explained. “I just want them to be neutral, or have them come out and say, ‘We’re a left-leaning organization.’ Then people can make an informed decision.”
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