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Google branches out into politics

Unfortunately, the only political model it would likely know is: One-party state
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Eliana Murillo

During the most recent U.S. election, the government of Russia appears to have attempted to use social media to influence matters, though how much difference its comparatively feeble efforts made is a matter of debate. But what if social media companies themselves get into the act, by, for example, influencing search engine results?

Last night, Fox News commentator Tucker Carlson told his nearly three million viewers about a memo he says was leaked to his team, which provides evidence of just such an effort. It was apparently written by Eliana Murillo, then Head of Multicultural Marketing for Google, on November 9, 2016, to two Google vice-presidents. It is dated a day after the U.S. election, which saw Donald Trump unexpectedly defeat Hillary Clinton for the presidency.  The recipients apparently forwarded it to other staff members. And from there, it seems, someone offered it to Tucker Carlson Tonight.

The nub of the story is, according to Carlson, that

Murillo touts Google’s multi-faceted efforts to boost Hispanic turnout in the election. She notes that Latinos voted in record-breaking numbers, especially in states like Florida, Nevada, and Arizona, the last of which she describes as “a key state for us.”

Tucker Carlson

So far, it might just be good corporate citizenship. But the four-page memo made clear that Google had been picking a side using its social media dominance:

She brags that the company used its power to ensure that millions of people saw certain hashtags and social media impressions with the goal of influencing their behaviour during the election.

More mundanely,

Elsewhere in the e-mail Murillo says Google supported “partners like Voto Latino to pay for rides in key states” She describes this assistance as a “silent donation.” Mario then says that google helped Voto Latino create ad campaigns to promote those rides. Now, officially Voto Latino is a non-partisan entity but that is a sham. Voto Latino is vocally partisan. Recently, the group declared that Hispanics — all Hispanics — are in Trump’s crosshairs. They said they planned to respond to this by registering another million additional Hispanic voters in the next presidential cycle. [link added] Tucker Carlson, “Email shows Google tried to help elect Clinton” at Tucker Carlson Tonight

Google has not denied that the e-mail is genuine. The firm’s legal position is with respect to such “silent donations” will doubtless interest some but, right or wrong, it is politics as usual.

Mark Steyn 2014.jpg
Mark Steyn

By contrast, the unchallenged manipulation of search engine results during elections is a new phenomenon made possible by the domination of the internet by a few big players. Canadian commentator Mark Steyn offered Carlson some thoughts on that:

Well, we should be deeply concerned. As you said, … everyone goes bananas because [Russia] bought up one hundred grand of Facebook ads or whatever it was. Google is already more powerful in terms of its control over people’s lives than almost every government on the planet. And I would say arguably that it has more control over American lives than, say, the government of Russia does, as a practical matter.

Now people are very naive about Google searches. They think that it doesn’t … whether you’re in a hotel in Des Moines or whether you’re hanging upside down in your bondage dungeon in Poughkeepsie, when you enter the Search results, everything’s the same. As this lady, Eliana Murillo, has explained, they’re actually capable now of targeting election content specifically to certain voting groups. So this isn’t like Rock the Vote or public attempts to get out the vote, this is where the world’s most powerful company is using data mining to channel election info-, partisan information to key voting demographics. That’s very disturbing because they’d steal the election and you’d never know it. … What if you had a monopoly on people’s access to information and without them even knowing about it, just when they happen to open up their phone or their laptop in the morning, you are able to direct them to your candidate without anybody knowing it. Mark Steyn, “Steyn: Google has more control over lives than Russia” at Tucker Carlson Tonight

But Google can’t own everything, after all, it seems. The election didn’t work out the way the memo writer had hoped because Latino Americans apparently did not vote en bloc. According to a copy obtained by the Washington Examiner:

Ultimately, after all was said and done, the Latino community did come out to vote, and completely surprised us,” Murillo wrote in the email. “We never anticipated that 29% of Latinos would vote for Trump. No one did. We saw headlines like this about early voter turn out and thought that this was finally the year that the ‘sleeping giant’ had awoken. Diana Stancy Correll, “Emails show Google executive discussing effort to encourage Latino vote, surprised so many voted for Trump” at Washington Examiner

The writer was clearly very upset (“devastating for our Democratic Latino community,” in the memo’s words) but probably does not speak for everyone at the firm. It’s worth noting that many Google employees are unhappy with their company’s authoritarianism, which suggests that they might prefer that it stay out of electoral politics.

But perhaps the takehome point here is that the effort at Googling the vote did not work as planned. We are not, it seems, addicted enough to social media for that. Or else social media is not pervasive enough yet.

But that’s nothing to be complacent about. Right now, Google even owns YouTube, by which the videos below continue to be visible, for now.

Note: The transcripts above were prepared by Denyse O’Leary, Ottawa, September 11, 2018, from these videos.

See also: George Gilder: Life after Google will be okay People will take ownership of their own data, cutting out the giant “middle man”

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