The following is a transcript I made of the blockbuster testimony made last week by Dr Robert Epstein before the Senate about Google’s search manipulation and its impact on elections:
I am Dr. Robert Epstein. The most important thing for you to know about me is that I’m the father of five wonderful children. As it happens, I’m also a research psychologist at the American Institute for Behavioral Research and Technology.
I have been Center, Center-Left my whole adult life but I value my country and Democracy more than I value any party or candidate. That is why I’m speaking out today. I’m here to explain why Google poses a serious threat to Democracy, how monitoring systems can protect us from companies like Google and how Congress can immediately end Google’s worldwide monopoly on search.
My plan for ending that monopoly was published just yesterday in Businessweek. I respectfully request that my article be entered into the Congressional Record. It’s attached to my full testimony…
I’ve been a research psychologist for nearly 40 years. My PhD is from Harvard and since 1981, I’ve published extensively on AI and other topics. Some of my research has focused on Google; on the company’s massive surveillance operations, censorship capabilities and unprecedented ability to manipulate the thinking of 2.5 billion people, soon to be 4+ billion.
I’ve written articles about Google for Time magazine, USA Today, that kind of thing but also for the Daily Caller and even Russia’s Sputnik News. I reach out to diverse audiences, because I believe the threats posed by Google and to a lesser extent, Facebook are so serious that everyone needs to know about them.
Here are just three disturbing findings from my research, which adheres to the very highest standards of scientific integrity:
1. In 2016, Google’s search algorithm likely impacted undecided voters in a way that shifted at least 2.6 million votes to Hillary Clinton, whom I supported.
I know this, because I preserved more than 13,000 election-related searches prior to Election Day and Google’s search results were significantly biased in favor of Secretary Clinton. I know the number of votes that shifted, because I’ve conducted dozens of controlled experiments that measure how opinions shift when search results are biased.
I call this shift SEME, the Search Engine Manipulation Effect, which I first published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, in 2015.
Biased search results can easily produce shifts in the opinions and voting preferences of undecided voters by up to 80%, in some demographic groups, because people blindly trust high-ranking search results over lower ones. SEME is an especially dangerous form of influence, because it is, in effect subliminal. It also leaves no paper trail for authorities to trace.
It’s an example of a short-lived or quote “ephemeral” experience. That’s a phrase you’ll find in internal emails that have leaked recently from Google. I’m now studying seven such manipulations like SEME and unlike billboards or those Russian-placed ads, these manipulations are invisible and non-competitive. They’re controlled entirely by Big Tech companies and there is no way to counteract them.
2. On Election Day in 2018, the “Go Vote” reminder that Google displayed on its homepage gave one political party, at least 800,000 more votes than it gave the other party. That reminder was not a public service. It was a vote manipulation.
3. In the weeks leading up to the 2018 election, bias in Google search results may have shifted upwards of 78.2 million votes, spread across many races to the candidates of one political party. This number is based on bias in data captured by my 2018 monitoring system, which preserved more than 47,000 election-related searches, conducted by a diverse group of American voters.
I know how to stop Big Tech in its tracks and that brings me briefly here to monitoring systems and the proposal I published yesterday. A 2015 phone call from the Attorney General of Mississippi prompted me to start a years-long project in which I have learned how to capture online ephemeral experiences.
In early 2016, I deployed a system that allowed my team to look over people’s shoulders as they conducted online searches (with their permission). I deployed a more sophisticated system in 2018 and I’m raising funds now to build a much more comprehensive system in 2021, one that will allow us to catch Big Tech in the act, to instantly spot when Facebook is biasing news feeds or when Twitter is suppressing tweets sent by Ann Coulter or Elizabeth Warren.
This system must be built to keep an eye on Big Tech in 2020. If these companies all support the same candidate, they will have the power to shift 15 million votes to that candidate. To let Big Tech get away with subliminal manipulation on this scale would be to make the free and fair election meaningless.
Finally, regarding yesterday’s article, Congress can quickly end Google’s worldwide monopoly on search by declaring Google’s massive search index, the database the company uses to generate search results to be a public commons, accessible by all. Just as a 1956 consent decree forced AT&T to share all its patents, there is precedent in both law and Google’s business practices to justify taking this step, which will make online search competitive again and dramatically diminish Google’s power worldwide.
In 1961, Eisenhower warned about the possible rise of a technological elite that would control public policy without people’s awareness. That now exists and you must determine where we go from here.
Democracy, as originally conceived cannot survive Big Tech, as currently empowered.
I look forward to your questions.