Google’s vice president of global government affairs and public policy, Karan Bhatia, was in the hot seat on Tuesday, appearing before the Senate Judiciary Committee to answer questions about the tech company’s bias against conservatives. The hearing was the second in recent months, allowing Republicans to grill Google employees over the repeated accusations against them, ranging from search engine bias to censorship to firing employees who don’t tow the “social justice” line inside Silicon Valley.
Sen. Ted Cruz was uncompromising in his criticism when he took the microphone.
“Google’s control over what people hear, watch, read, and say is unprecedented,” said Cruz. “Google can, and often does, control our discourse. The American people are subject to overt censorship and covert manipulation.”
Bhatia fell back on the same excuses and platitudes, assuring lawmakers that Google does not bring any political bias to its algorithms or its policy decisions. This has been proven wrong time and time again, but the company feels that as long as they keep saying it isn’t so, people will believe them. Bhatia acknowledged that some people had been censored and some content had been removed, but he denied that any of it had anything to do with the company’s well-documented partisan stance.
“We work hard to fix our mistakes,” Bhatia said. “But these mistakes have affected both parties and are not a product of bias. We are not censoring speech on our platforms. We do have community guidelines against uploading, for example, videos that have violent imagery.”
Cruz also took aim at the cultural/political bias of Google’s executives, noting that 88 top-level employees at the company had contributed to Hillary Clinton’s 2016 campaign.
“You know how many contributed to Donald Trump?” Cruz asked. “Zero, goose egg.”
Talk of regulating private industry is always, always a slippery slope. We continue to believe that it’s well worth Republicans’ time to hold these hearings and expose these companies and their practices to the public. The American people absolutely deserve to know what Google, Facebook, Twitter, and the rest are doing to manipulate our collective conversation.
But that’s probably where it should end. These tech companies are, in their way, unlike any businesses that have ever existed. Their “we’re not publishers, only a platform” excuse is flimsy. Their reach and level of social control is unparalleled in history. There is certainly a good case to be made for government regulation.
But that way lies trouble, and the problems it creates could easily exceed the ones it solves. Let us step carefully, then, and let information be the best weapon against tech bias. Otherwise, we could live to regret the monster we create.