What do Google, Youtube, Facebook and Twitter all have in common? In addition to being indispensable tools for modern life, all four are run by executives who lean quite left of center. That wouldn’t be cause for alarm in and of itself if it weren’t for their companies’ involvement in politics, which is in turn creating controversial instances of unfair treatment of employees and users.
By now, Google has beaten out all competing search engines, becoming synonymous with searching the Internet itself. Being responsible for the way everyone on the planet obtains data is a frightening amount of power. I first began to worry about Google’s potential to hide information that it dislikes during the case of James Damore, who was fired for his now-infamous “diverstity memo.” Damore, a valuable asset to Google’s team of engineers, was let go for suggesting that the low number of women in certain tech professions could be the result of biological differences. Firing Damore demonstrated Google’s lack of objectivity when approaching issues that are still not entirely understood by science. When it comes to helping people find the information they are looking for, that sort of objectivity is vital.
There has been a lot of speculation about Google’s search results, which some claim favor the content of left-leaning websites and buries conservative ones. When it comes to search algorithms, results mimic users’ search patterns by showing them what they will most likely click on. This data affects a user’s personal results but is also cataloged into the data that affects overall results for users at large.
That suggests Google’s algorithms’ apparent tendency to favor progressive results can be chalked up to user habits. Mathematician Leo Goldstein, however, argues that Google’s method of ranking search results could include an element of “intentional bias,” meaning some results could be “introduced by internal Google decisions.”
His argument hinges mainly on the disparately high rate of traffic to popular climate change websites. They have received a great deal of visitors following Google searches for keywords that are prominent in their headlines, while websites skeptical of climate change appear to get very few visitors downstream from a Google search. This pattern is in no way conclusive evidence of deliberate interference by Google, but it does suggest there is a pattern.
YouTube and Twitter have both demonstrated a tendency to selectively censor content apparently breaking community guidelines. Theryn Meyer, the popular transgender commentator and activist, recently had her Twitter account suspended for reasons that were never made clear, making her just one of many controversial personalities arbitrarily banned from the platform.
The vague language used in writing policies for suspension has a lot to do with how they get away with targeting libertarian and conservative users. Youtube personality Christ Ray Gun, best known for his musical social justice warrior lampoons, points out in his critique of Youtube policy that the rules are written using subjective terms like “controversial” and “sensitive,” neither of which mean the same thing to everyone.
As for Facebook, it’s no secret that CEO Mark Zuckerberg is considering a presidential bid in the near future. It’s likely that he will try to tap into the popularity of the “not a career politician” mantra that has propelled numerous celebrities to unlikely elected positions, Donald Trump being the most notable. A Zuckerberg campaign predicated on such an “outsider” angle would have to rely on the American voters’ trust in his word that he has something to offer beyond the same mainstream, cookie-cutter media bias that had a lot to do with the election of President Trump.
It’s anyone’s guess whether Zuckerberg will run an “outsider” campaign, but whether he does or not, his actions scream very loudly of Orwellian thought-control. Perhaps Zuckerberg’s hottest smoking gun is the audio of him complying with German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s request that Facebook posts critical of her immigration policies be manipulated by Facebook algorithms.
Other instances of Zuckerberg taking steps to becoming a proverbial “Big Brother” include the suppression of conservative news and preventing conservative topics from “trending,” as detailed by former Facebook employee whistleblowers. Also, Facebook removed the iconic “napalm girl” photo taken during the Vietnam War. The photograph is instantly recognizable for most, and a part of history, which is why the Norwegian journal Aftenposten took issue with its arbitrary and pointless removal from Facebook.
The world’s most widely used search engines and social media platforms are all run by people who think alike, and that could set us up for a future in which dissenting opinions have no voice on the internet.