Op-ed by CFJ president Curt Levey published in The Daily Caller:
Google CEO Sundar Pichai’s testimony before the House Judiciary Committee on Tuesday was dominated by questions about possible bias against conservatives in the company’s search engines and social media sites. Despite concerns about such bias, I found myself feeling sympathetic about the difficulty Google and its subsidiary YouTube face in satisfying Congress and ordinary Americans about this issue.
“There is a very strong conviction on this side of the aisle that [Google’s] algorithms are written with a bias against conservatives,” said GOP Rep. Steve King of Iowa. His colleaguescited studies, anecdotes and leaked videos and emails seemingly demonstrating an anti-conservative bias in Google’s search results and among its employees.
Democrats on the committee attacked this claim. Incoming Chairman Jerry Nadler of New York led the way, alleging a “fantasy, dreamed up by some conservatives, that Google and other online platforms have an anti-conservative bias.” When Nadler added that discussion of bias distracts from what “should be the focus of today’s hearing. … that Russia engaged in a massive disinformation campaign to influence the 2016 election,” Pichai responded that the “two main ad accounts linked to Russia” spent only $4700.
Notably, none of the Democrats seriously contended that Google or other platforms have an anti-liberal bias. So the truth lies somewhere between the extremes – the Democrats’ view that bias is nonexistent and the contention of GOP Rep. Lamar Smith of Texas, citing a study by Dr. Robert Epstein, that “Google’s bias likely swung 2.6 million votes to Hillary Clinton in the 2016 election.”
The distance between those extremes illustrates how drastically different the Republicans and Democrats on the committee view the online reality, as well as the appropriate response. Republicans want less content removed and ideologically broader search results, while Nadler and his colleagues want Pichai to do a more thorough job of removing “hateful conduct and content.”
As a result, Pichai faces a nearly impossible task in developing policies that will satisfy a substantial majority of the committee members and the Americans whose views they represent. Moreover, those policies can only do so much to address the perceived bias because, as the hearing reminded us, the roots of any anti-conservative bias lie largely in structural features of our society rather than with Google or other online platforms...
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