Schweizer: Stalin, Hitler, Mao 'Would Dream About' Google's Power Over Our Thoughts
WASHINGTON, D.C. — Google and Facebook have tremendous power to influence billions of people, without them even knowing it. An upcoming film documents how they can make companies rich, they can suppress information, and they can sway an election. They can even suggest thoughts and sway culture. This is the kind of power kings, emperors, and even dictators of yesteryear would envy, if they knew it existed.
"Throughout human history, tragically, leaders, ideologies, and belief systems have arisen that want to have total control over our lives, they want to remake human nature," Peter Schweizer, New York Times bestselling author and writer for the upcoming film "The Creepy Line," told PJ Media. He mentioned Benito Mussolini, Vladimir Lenin, Adolf Hitler, Joseph Stalin, and Mao Zedong.
"They all had police forces, they killed millions of people — tens of millions of people, in some cases," Schweizer noted. "I'm not suggesting companies like Facebook and Google do that, but these companies do have control or influence over us that those dictators and leaders would dream about."
"All the crude propaganda that they engaged in, the radio broadcasts, the leaflets, the sort of hypnotic speeches that they would give, pale in comparison with the ability for Google to nudge and to steer us in directions they want us to go and we don’t necessarily want to go," the author explained.
Facebook and Google "do that by sifting our information, determining what we see and what we don’t see, they also do that by censoring information, and they nudge us in directions that they want us to go."
"This is enormous power," Schweizer said. "It’s the sort of power of Big Brother in '1984,' and it’s the sort of power that these totalitarians from the last century would have loved and dreamed of having. They have power over the news and information that we get and the thoughts that we start to form."
"The film is called 'The Creepy Line' because we believe that Facebook and Google are doing things that are out of bounds with what we expect from companies," Schweizer explained. The phrase comes from a speech in which Eric Schmidt, then the CEO of Google, said his company likes to "get right up to the creepy line, but not cross it."
"They never define what the creepy line is, but our view and attitude is that they cross the creepy line all the time," he told PJ Media. "They have the ability to sway and influence people, and they admit this. They brag about it. It gives them a power over the control of information, it gives them the power of suggestion, and it gives them the power to have a dramatic effect on elections."
M.A. Taylor, director of "The Creepy Line," told PJ Media how this power works. He explained that Robert Epstein — a psychologist who earned his Ph.D. at Harvard — has extensively researched the search engine manipulation effect (SEME), discovering that Google's search engine "can actually sway your opinion."
"If I type a character in the search bar and suggestions come up, if they're all positive, they'll lead to positive web pages which will lead to a positive effect. If you have a negative in there, that negative is likely to get ten to fifteen times more clicks, bringing up negative pages," Taylor told PJ Media.
Google gives users ten search results on the first page, and it delivers them in ranks from one to ten, with the top result regarded as the most reliable. This involves two biases, Taylor explained. First, it has to sift through results to give the top ten, then it has to choose the most reliable result for number 1. Users want this ranking for the most reliable basic information for searches like, "What is the capital of France?"
"This becomes problematic when you talk about things like candidates or issues, because that algorithm has to make that decision about who's the best candidate or who should you vote for and things like that," Taylor said. "That's where it becomes problematic, because we don't really know what the algorithm is doing to give us these results."
Robert Epstein ran an experiment, using a search engine to measure the impact of bias on Americans who had no knowledge of a particular issue — like Australia's 2010 election, for example. "He thought it would be, we put all positive searches for one candidate, they'll shift two or three percent," the director said. "It actually shifted 48 percent."
Epstein first thought this huge result was a mistake, but he ran the study again, and the shift got bigger: 63 percent! He even figured out how to mask the bias by adding one positive search result for the other candidate into a list of results favoring his opponent.
The psychologist has run this experiment in India and with the 2016 U.S. presidential election. He found evidence of bias, and conservatives would not be surprised to find that the bias favored Hillary Clinton.
In the movie, Epstein told the story of his blacklisting by Google in 2012. On the very first day of that year, Google blacklisted his website, saying it had malware. It also cut off his access to the Internet — he could not even use Safari or Firefox to search the web.
Google also shut down the account of Jordan Peterson, a Canadian psychology professor and bestselling author. In that incident, Peterson lost access to his email (going back 15 years), to his YouTube channel, to Internet maps, and more.
Google has the power to blacklist people and remove their access to the Internet. In the Information Age, that is the closet thing to absolute power.
Worse, it is a kind of power even more effective than the power of government.
"In the past, these governments have an inefficiency to them, they’re bureaucracies," the film's director, M.A. Taylor, told PJ Media. "These companies are not inefficient, they’re highly efficient, and they’re stocked full of the smartest people in the world."
Taylor did not only criticize these companies. He admitted that "Facebook and Google did a lot of great things. They connected people, they created amazing technologies." In fact, their products "work so well that they can determine elections around the world without anybody knowing it."
That said, the user is the product — Facebook and Google sell their users' information to companies and governments, enabling them to target users with specific ads. But this "surveillance model" of profit also gives the companies tremendous power, and knowledge of users' intimate details.
"They take your data and you get a free email. Here’s all my most intimate thoughts, and you get a free email," he explained. "It’s a terrible bargain that’s really not worth it, so I can find my way to a Starbucks on my phone."
Taylor argued that each user will have to "watch the watchers."
"We're the gasoline for these engines. Without our data to be sold ... Without us, what do they have? It's up to us to begin the conversation and start being more vigilant in our use of these platforms," he said.
"The Creepy Line" has had one screening each in New York City and Washington, D.C. I attended the screening on behalf of PJ Media, and interviewed both M.A. Taylor and Peter Schweizer on Facebook Live this morning. Watch those videos below.
The Peter Schweizer interview.
The interview with M.A. Taylor.
Follow the author of this article on Twitter at @Tyler2ONeil.