State Representative Alex Kolodin (R-Scottsdale), chair of the Arizona House Ad Hoc Committee on Oversight, Accountability, and Big Tech, held the first of a series of hearings last week investigating the impact of Big Tech’s election interference. The first half of the four-hour long session featured testimony by Harvard-educated academic Dr. Robert Epstein, who discovered how Google influences election results. The second half consisted of testimony by First Amendment attorney James Kerwin of the Mountain States Legal Foundation, who discussed where the law is in regard to officials pressuring big tech about posts. He reviewed what then-Secretary of State Katie Hobbs’ office emailed to big tech during the last election, and suggested legislation the Arizona Legislature could propose to curtail the officials.
Kolodin said during the hearing, “It is not acceptable for the government to censor free speech simply because it acts through the private sector.” He warned that the country is in the beginning of a nascent police state … nascent totalitarian society … I go to grassroots meetings where people are afraid to speak … afraid they will be arrested.”
Kolodin said some presenters invited to speak at the hearing dropped out due to fear.
Epstein, whose speech was titled “The Impact of Big Tech’s Election Interference and How we Can Stop it,” admitted he voted for Joe Biden and Hillary Clinton, not Donald Trump, said Google is the “biggest mind control engine that’s ever been invented.” He said that while “they have the power, it’s not illegal. It should be.” He said the government hasn’t done anything to stop Google.
He got involved in investigating Google after receiving a notice from the company in 2012 that said his website had been hacked. “Who made Google the sheriff of the internet?” Then he found the Safari browser was blocking his website — how could Google influence an unrelated browser, he wondered. He wrote an article for U.S. News & World Report about it in 2016.
He began looking into Google search results and said he found “[t]he most disturbing set of scientific findings that I have ever encountered in my life.” He learned that 95 percent of clicks on search results go to the results on the first page. He started setting up experiments with subjects to determine if the search results were artificially manipulated and whether it could influence which political candidate the subject decided to support. He predicted a 2-3 percent shift due to the bias. He was shocked to find it was a 43 percent shift.
He asked his subjects if they observed the bias, and only 25 percent said yes. Then, he set up the search results to “mask the bias.” Instead of showing results that primarily benefited one candidate, he added one favorable result for the opposing candidate. As a result, 85 percent said they saw no sign of bias. When he moved that result up to the third slot in the search results, not a single person reported seeing any bias.
Epstein said that based on all the information Google has compiled on people over the years, the company knows who the undecided voters versus the decided voters are. “We really don’t need to hold elections anymore,” he said since Google knows how people will vote and who will win. He refers to the phenomenon of influencing search results as the Search Engine Manipulation Effect (SEME).
He found that certain demographics were more susceptible to manipulation than others.
Some groups would only shift 20 percent, whereas some would shift as much as 80 percent after just one search. That most vulnerable group was moderate Republicans.
He also discovered that the people who spotted the bias shifted even further in the direction of the bias, about 12-13 points more. He said it was due to a misplaced trust people place in search engines and machine output. He submitted a report on his findings to the National Academy of Sciences, which published it.