WASHINGTON, D.C., July 17, 2019 (LifeSiteNews) — Google vice president for government affairs and public policy Karan Bhatia declared under oath Tuesday that the internet giant does not employ blacklists to slant its search results, despite leaked materials detailing the practice months ago.
Yesterday, the House Judiciary Committee’s Subcommittee on the Constitution held a hearing focused on alleged political censorship affecting Google’s search results. Breitbart reports that Bhatia made the claim in response to questioning from Sen. Marsha Blackburn (R-Tenn.).
“I feel like you all push the boundaries until your hand gets slapped,” Blackburn said. “Has Google ever blacklisted, or attempted to blacklist, a company, group, individual, or outlet from its advertising partners or its search results for political reasons?”
“We don’t use blacklists, whitelists to influence our search results,” he responded.
“For what reason does Google blacklist a company?” she followed up.
“As I said, per your previous question, we do not utilize blacklists or whitelists in our search results to favor political outcomes,” he insisted. “That’s not, doesn’t happen.”
Bhatia’s answer conflicts with the January leak of a file named “youtube_controversial_query_blacklist,” containing a list of search terms manually curated by Google for its video platform YouTube. While some of the terms referenced fringe conspiracy theories, other terms included “abortion,” “Maxine Waters,” and items pertaining to the 2018 Irish abortion referendum.
Leaked internal chat logs showed employees speculating that abortion had been added in December, after a Slate writer complained about Live Action videos explaining what abortion procedures actually entail. It “seems like we are pretty eager to cater our search results to the social and political agenda of left-wing journalists,” one employee admitted at the time.
Sen. Josh Hawley (R-Mo.) responded to the claim by calling Google the “most dishonest company to appear before Congress”:
Hey @Google, let me refresh your memory. You have a history of ideological censorship: “To get into China, the young company that had defined itself by the motto “Don’t be evil” agreed to censor the search results shown to Chinese users.” https://t.co/V72GlPQ2BZ
— Josh Hawley (@HawleyMO) July 17, 2019
So when you say now that you would NEVER censor content for ideological purposes in America, why would anyone believe you? In fact, why would anyone believe you about anything?
— Josh Hawley (@HawleyMO) July 17, 2019
Robert Epstein, a research psychologist with the American Institute for Behavioral Research and Technology, testified Tuesday that he has identified “nine different blacklists Google maintains to suppress information worldwide,” referring senators to a 2016 US News & World Report piece in which he elaborated on that conclusion.
These blacklists, he says, encompass Google’s search results, autocomplete feature, Google Maps, YouTube searches, Google News, AdWords and AdSense, banned user accounts, and websites it quarantines for supposedly being infected with harmful software.
Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas), who chairs the subcommittee, declared that Google enjoys a “staggering amount of power to ban speech, manipulate search results, destroy rivals, and shape culture,” the Washington Examiner reports. “If Big Tech cannot provide us with evidence that it’s not playing Big Brother with its immense powers, we don’t need to give them a subsidy through Section 230,” he added, alluding to Hawley’s bill to require online platforms to certify their political neutrality with the FCC to retain immunity from being held liable for user content.
Conservative commentator Dennis Prager, whose educational video enterprise PragerU is among the outlets impacted by YouTube’s policies, also testified on his case, Townhall reports. Bhatia had previously suggested that Google put PragerU’s Ten Commandments video in Restricted Mode (blocking it from accounts that use parental controls) because it “contains references to murder … [and] potentially Nazism and World War Two, perhaps something along those lines.”
That explanation was “so absurd as to be hilarious,” Prager said. “I feel like I’m in a Monty Python film when [Bhatia] says something like that. The only possible explanation for all of this is they don’t like PragerU because we’re a very, very influential conservative voice touching a lot of lives. There’s no other explanation.”
Federal Communications Commission (FCC) chairman Ajit Pai told Congress last month that he considers “unregulated Silicon Valley tech giants” to be today’s “greatest threat to a free and open internet.” President Donald Trump promised last week that he was “directing my Administration to explore all regulatory and legislative solutions to protect the free speech rights of ALL AMERICANS.”
Aside from Hawley’s proposal, Cruz has also suggested that lawmakers consider applying existing antitrust laws to break up companies like Google, or exploring whether biased enforcement of what most users assume to be neutral and open forums constitutes fraud.