Conservative frustration with Big Tech bias bubbled over this week amid fresh evidence of behind-the-scenes political manipulation at Google, spurring calls for federal action to prevent the industry from putting its thumb on the scales of the 2020 election.
President Trump led the charge Wednesday by accusing left-leaning tech platforms of “trying to rig the election,” citing a hidden-camera video released this week by Project Veritas showing a Google executive discussing the need to prevent “the next Trump situation.”
“I tell you what, they should be sued, because what’s happening with the bias,” Mr. Trump told Fox Business News host Maria Bartiromo. “And now you see it, with that executive yesterday from Google, the hatred for the Republicans, and it’s not even, ‘Gee, let’s lean Democrat.’ The hatred.”
Meanwhile, the White House announced it would host a Social Media Summit on July 11 for “digital leaders,” focusing on “opportunities and challenges of today’s online environment.”
Top tech platforms Google and YouTube have responded by reiterating their denials of politically motivated chicanery, while conservatives who have raised alarm for years about online censorship and discrimination insist the time for talk is over.
The Media Research Center repeated its call Wednesday for a Justice Department investigation into bias at the social media giants, saying “they are simply too powerful for ordinary citizens to challenge.”
“It’s an ongoing problem, and some members of Congress recognize the problem, but nothing is getting done. And that’s the real problem,” said Dan Gainor, vice president of the center. “We are now in the election cycle, and this latest report raises questions about whether or not this will be a fair election.”
The Project Veritas video showed Google executive Jen Gennai saying that everyone, including the voters and news media, “got screwed in 2016,” and that Google has been working on “what happened there and how do we prevent it from happening again.”
Ms. Gennai admitted in a Monday post to using “imprecise language” but insisted the idea that she was a “powerful executive” confirming that Google was trying to fix the 2020 election was “absolute, unadulterated nonsense.”
Mr. Trump saw it differently. “Let me tell you, they’re trying to rig the election,” he said. “That’s what we should be looking at, not the witch hunt, the phony witch hunt.”
In an online statement, YouTube said that “we apply our policies fairly and without political bias. All creators are held to the same standard.”
Likewise Google, which owns YouTube.
“We build our products with extraordinary care and safeguards to be a trustworthy source of information for everyone, without any regard for political viewpoint,” a Google spokesperson said in a statement. “Our rating guidelines are publicly visible for all to see.”
At a House hearing Wednesday on online terrorism and misinformation, however, Big Tech’s objectivity came under fire from Republicans, who grilled social media representatives about whether their platforms are blocking right-of-center content in the name of fighting extremism.
“We’re here today to discuss extremist content, violent threats, terrorist recruiting tactics, instigation of violence. Yet the same justification your platform uses to quell true extremism is often used to silence and restrict voices that you disagree with,” said Rep. Clay Higgins, Louisiana Republican. “We don’t like it.”
Rep. Debbie Lesko, Arizona Republican, said the tech dominance reminded her of the dystopian world depicted in the George Orwell novel “1984.”
“At a previous briefing on this, one of the members said, ‘Well, I think President Trump’s tweets incite terrorism,’” said Rep. Debbie Lesko, Arizona Republican. “Well, are we now going to ban what President Trump says because somebody thinks that it incites terrorism? This is some really scary stuff, and I’m very concerned.”
Among the examples was a leaked internal Google email posted Tuesday by Project Veritas describing such conservative figures as Ben Shapiro, Jordan Peterson and PragerU, run by Dennis Prager, as “nazis.” Both Mr. Shapiro and Mr. Prager are Jewish.
Rep. Dan Crenshaw, Texas Republican, said it revealed “that labeling the mainstream conservative media as Nazis is a premise upon which you operate. It’s not even a question.”
“Two of three of these people are Jewish, very religious Jews, and yet you think they’re Nazis,” said Mr. Crenshaw. “It begs the question: ‘What kind of education do people at Google have so they think that religious Jews are Nazis?’”
Google global director of communications Derek Slater insisted the platform was reliable.
“When we’re designing our products, again we’re designing them for everyone,” Mr. Slater said. “We have robust set of guidelines making sure we’re developing relevant, trustworthy information.”
Mr. Higgins argued that Google and YouTube are “developing quite a poor reputation in our nation, with a clear history of repetitively silencing and banning voices.”
“Mr. Slater, God bless you. Google’s in a bind. Today, America’s watching,” Mr. Higgins said. “Today, America is taking a step back. We’re looking at the services, we’re looking at the platforms we use, and we’re finding to our horror that they can’t be trusted.”
Congress has recently moved to take action on the growing power of Big Tech. A House subcommittee is investigating possible antitrust violations, while Sen. Josh Hawley, Missouri Republican, introduced last week the Ending Support for Internet Censorship Act, which would remove automatic immunity from liable claims.
Figuring out how to strike a balance between interfering with the free market and stopping political bias has long bedeviled Republicans, who recoil from federal regulation.
Others have suggested filing Federal Election Commission complaints about possible meddling.
At the very least, said Craig Strazzeri, chief marketing officer for PragerU, conservatives need to do more than complain.
PragerU filed federal and state lawsuits after YouTube restricted more than 100 of its five-minute videos, including those with titles like, “Gun Rights are Women’s Rights,” “Do Not Commit Adultery” and “Is the Death Penalty Ever Moral?”
“In general, I think it’s important to fight back,” Mr. Strazzeri said. “I think what Big Tech realizes is, they think conservatives will just give up. It’s important to fight back both in the courtroom and the court of public opinion. That’s why we ultimately decided to sue them.”