Senator Tom Cotton (R-AR) has pressed Google CEO Sundar Pichai for answers regarding the Internet giant’s deliberate interference in the U.S. presidential election after an investigation revealed the company was actively blocking search traffic from a number of conservative news sites, according to Breitbart.
Cotton’s letter he sent to Pichai comes after a letter sent last week to Attorney General Bill Barr requesting the Justice Department to consider potential antitrust actions be installed against Google over its search manipulation “for political and other anti-competitive purposes.”
Cotton opens his letter to Pichai by referring to the letter sent to Barr before citing fresh reporting by Breitbart about Google shutting down search traffic to the news outlet and other conservative news sites—particularly anything about the Democrat presidential nominee Joe Biden.
Cotton added that he believes the search engine is “misleading” the American people ahead of the presidential election.
“As you may know, last week I sent a letter to the Department of Justice detailing concerns about Google abusing its dominance in the search engine market,” Cotton wrote to Pichai. “In that letter, I specifically mentioned concerns that conservative websites were being blacklisted from Google search results.”
“New reporting on this very issue has compounded these concerns. Especially given the proximity to the November 2020 presidential election, the fact that Google appears to be delisting search results critical of former Vice President Joe Biden is particularly disturbing. Most Americans assume that Google shows them the most relevant results when they search the web, rather than curated results designed to support a corporation’s preferred political party. I am concerned that Google’s actions are playing a role in misleading the American people in the run-up to Election Day.”
“According to leaked video from Google’s first all-hands meeting following the 2016 election, one top Google executive told employees that they must ‘work so hard’ to ensure that the populist movement that helped to propel President Trump to the White House was nothing more than a ‘blip’ in history,” Cotton wrote to Pichai.
“That same executive suggested during the meeting that it is ‘incredibly valuable’ that ‘Google is a trusted source of information.’ At the time the video was leaked, Google responded to a news inquiry by saying that ‘[n]othing was said at that meeting, or any other meeting, to suggest that any political bias ever influences the way we build or operate our products,’ and that Google’s products are designed ‘with extraordinary care to be a trustworthy source of information for everyone, without regard to political viewpoint.’”
In an effort to prove these denials by Google were false, Cotton cited Breitbart’s investigation published earlier this week, saying that the outlet had “presented compelling evidence” that revealed Google is “manipulating its search engine operations” to aid in Biden’s presidential campaign, according to Breitbart.
“Despite Google’s previous denials of bias, it was reported this week that Google may be manipulating its search engine operations to block content appearing when users search for ‘Joe Biden,’” Cotton wrote.
“A Breitbart News article presented compelling evidence indicating that, in early May, Google manipulated its algorithm to cause the ‘wholesale removal of rank and visibility’ of Breitbart results mentioning Vice President Biden. In fact, after Google’s algorithm change, the amount of Google-based impressions and clicks on Breitbart News articles for Biden-related terms stopped completely. A search engine optimization expert opined that the evidence suggested a ‘high probab[ility] [of] manipulation on the part of Google.’ Indeed, according to the article, the expert also said he had never seen anything like it. While most news websites derive 30%-50% of their online traffic from Google search results, for Breitbart News that number is only 9%.”
Cotton added that the evidence provided suggested that Google’s denials that conservative media are not on a “blacklist” tested credulity.
Cotton referred to Pichai’s testimony in December of 2018 before Congress when Pichai said under oath that “it’s not possible for an individual employee or groups of employees to manipulate search results.”
“It is difficult to reconcile your prior comments with recent evidence,” Cotton wrote in his letter to Pichai.
Cotton proceeded to ask Pichai a number of questions on the matter.
“What algorithm changes did Google make in early May, and why did they de-rank or essentially eliminate Biden-related reporting on Breitbart.com from Google results for ‘Joe Biden’ or other Biden-related search terms?”
Cotton followed this up with a second question: “Are Google’s algorithm changes tested to determine whether they filter out either conservative or liberal political views from search results prior to Google’s implementation of those algorithms?”
“Given your testimony in December 2018 that it is impossible for Google to manipulate search results to benefit one political party over another, do you believe it is mere accident that Google’s algorithm apparently disadvantages only conservative perspectives in search results in the United States?” Cotton asked in his third question to Pichai.