With the $32 million Mueller Investigation clearing US President Donald Trump of colluding with Russia to steal the 2016 US presidential election, it’s time to look at the real threat to American democracy - Big Tech.
Big Tech is the term used to describe United States multinational online service or computer and software companies that dominate cyberspace, mainly Google, Amazon, Facebook, Apple, and occasionally Microsoft.
The cornerstone to any properly functioning democracy is free and open elections where the public engage in unrestricted discussions on the pressing issues at hand while candidates put forward their solutions to these problems.
And while there is no suggestion that Big Tech is directly attacking the ballot box, their deeds maybe even more devious and subsequently, more consequential.
The power of Big Tech to manipulate public opinion and influence elections was laid bare in astonishing fashion recently when search engine expert and psychologist Dr. Robert Epstein testified before the Senate Judiciary Committee that Google could manipulate "upwards of 15 million votes" in 2020.
Google’s US search engine market share is just over 88% meaning it has a monopolistic influence on how Americans navigate the internet, effecting what they see and perhaps more importantly, what they don’t see.
Epstein, a liberal professor who also testified he supported and voted for Hillary Clinton in 2016, said that Google election meddling gave Clinton “a rock bottom minimum” of at least 2.6 million additional votes in the 2016 election.
“The range is between 2.6 and 10.4 million votes, depending on how aggressively they use the techniques that I’ve been studying now for six and a half years — such as the search engine manipulation effect, the search suggestion effect, the answer bot effect, and a number of others.”
Epstein said that biased Google searches had a measurable impact on the 2018 midterm elections, pushing tens of thousands of votes towards Democrat candidates in three key congressional races, and potentially millions more in races across the country.
“In 2020 — if all these companies are supporting the same candidate — there are 15 million votes on the line that can be shifted without people’s knowledge, and without leaving a paper trail for authorities to trace.”
"If [in 2016] Mark Zuckerberg, for example, had chosen to send out a “Go Vote” reminder, say, just to Democrats — and no one would have known if he had done this — that would have given that day an additional — at least 450,000 votes to Democrats, and we know this without doubt, because of Facebook’s own published data — they did an experiment that they can tell anyone about during the 2010 election — they published it in 2012, it had 60 million Facebook users involved."
They sent out a "Go Vote" reminder, and they got something like 360,000 more people to get off their sofas and go vote, who otherwise would have stayed home.
“And in 2020, you can bet that all of these companies are going to go all out,” continued Epstein, “And the methods that they’re using are invisible, they’re subliminal, they’re more powerful than most — any effects I’ve ever seen in the behavioral sciences, and I’ve been in the behavioral sciences for almost 40 years.”
Tulsi Gabbard claims Google election interference
If you think Epstein’s claims are outlandish then consider Democratic congresswoman Tulsi Gabbard’s allegations that Big Tech has already interfered in the 2020 US presidential election.
In the immediate aftermath of her impressive performance in the first Democratic presidential debate in June, the Hawaiian representative’s name was the most searched term in Google, yet the tech giant apparently buried people’s access to information on her.
In response, Gabbard is now suing Google for blocking her campaign ads account and censoring her at the very moment when millions of Americans wanted to learn more about her. Gabbard’s complaint also accuses Google of sending campaign emails to people’s Gmail spam folders at a “disproportionately high rate.” Her campaign is seeking a legal injunction against Google to prevent further election meddling, as well as $50 million in damages.
Gabbard told the New York Times, "This is a threat to free speech, fair elections and to our democracy, and I intend to fight back on behalf of all Americans.”
Gabbard is the most anti-establishment candidate of the entire Democratic field. The military combat veteran has voiced a strong anti-war stance and her decision to co-sponsor a bill to audit the Federal Reserve has put her in the firing line of the party’s elites.
A Google whistleblower, Zachary Vorhies, has also come forward and leaked documents to back up claims of election manipulation and political bias by the company since the election of Donald Trump by “blacklisting” certain news websites.
The move on Gabbard, however, marks a more aggressive approach from Silicon Valley who, up until then, had been accused of disproportionally censoring conservatives in favor of their progressive agenda.
We have witnessed right-wing commentators like Alex Jones, Milo Yiannopoulos, Paul Joseph Watson, Laura Loomer et al “de-platformed”
Pro-life advocacy organization Live Action has been permanently barred from Pinterest, had viral videos buried on YouTube and banned from Twitter advertising until they “stop calling for the defunding of Planned Parenthood and stop sharing our pro-life content.”
When Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell posted a video of gun control activists spewing death threats against him outside his home, Twitter suspended his account for posting the video.
Even parents in Virginia concerned about the implementation of a new transgender policy in their public school system have been de-platformed by social media activist site Care2.
The list goes on.
These decisions have also been used as a pretext by digital payment services like PayPal and Venmo to ban controversial figures from using their products, effectively “demonetizing” them.
A step beyond speech censorship, YouTube is also de-monetizing videos from popular right-leaning YouTubers Steven Crowder and Mark Dice instead of outright banning them from the platform, thus draining them of their resources to voice an opinion.
What can be done?
Purveyors of free speech would like to see the First Amendment, which protects “hate speech,” applied to social media platforms because they have assumed the position of 21st-century public squares. Censorship leads us down a dark road where unfavorable thoughts are disappeared down memory holes, as envisaged in George Orwell’s dystopian classic, 1984. Instead, let people battle it out in the marketplace of ideas they say.
For progressives the answer is simple. Critics should go elsewhere and/or start their own platforms. Some have. Gab, a Twitter alternative, was threatened by Microsoft with the cancelation of its web domain because of two “offensive” posts made by a minor Republican candidate and so you see the Big Tech monopolistic tentacles in action.
These companies remain privately owned, governed by their own terms of service which users have agreed to abide by. They have shielded themselves from government oversight by claiming to be “platforms” and not “publishers,” based on Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act. Yet they have become the arbitrators of what we see and hear.
Section 230 grants tech companies broad immunity to censor content they consider “lewd, lascivious, filthy, excessively violent, harassing, or otherwise objectionable, whether or not such material is constitutionally protected.”
That section, however, was predicated on social media companies being neutral public forums in return for legal protections against being sued over the content they present - however they have long passed the point of impartiality.
The short-term solution may come in the form of executive action by President Trump who is preparing to let the Department of Justice (DOJ) and the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) police these organizations.
The long term solution may come in breaking up the Big Tech altogether, as outlined by presidential hopeful Elizabeth Warren and FTC Trade Commission Chairman Joseph Simons
Either way to dismiss Big Techs influence is in itself a dereliction of duty on the part of citizens.
As Thomas Jefferson once said, “The price of freedom is eternal vigilance.”
We have been warned.