Google’s video sharing platform YouTube has removed a video exposé by Project Veritas that showed Google employees and internal documents describing methods Google uses to infuse its politics into its products in order to surreptitiously push its users toward a worldview preferred by Google.
One employee even appeared to say, when caught on hidden camera, that Google’s goal in some of its efforts was preventing President Donald Trump or anybody like him from getting elected again—an assertion confirmed by another Google employee speaking under the condition of anonymity.
The video was published on the morning of June 24, but by the evening YouTube removed it, citing reports of privacy violations, presumably because the video showed the face and the name of the Google employee caught on camera—Jen Gennai, head of Google’s Responsible Innovation.
The company said the video wouldn’t be in violation of its policies if it had personally identifiable information blurred or removed.
Project Veritas founder James O’Keefe said he did redact names of certain Google employees in the video. But he disclosed Gennai’s because her comments were “newsworthy and the public has a right to know that information.”
“Spare me the lecture about journalism ethics when journalists publish information about private citizens all the time if those private citizens don’t share their politics,” he said in a phone call. “This is a Google executive, it may be the most important public technology issue of the 21st century.”
Instead of responding to information in the video, Google referred The Epoch Times to a June 24 Medium blog post by Gennai where she said she “used some imprecise language” and that Project Veritas “selectively edited and spliced the video to distort [her] words and the actions of [her] employer.”
O’Keefe, though, dared her to give a specific example of one such edit in the video. “TV news segments put things together in 8-second bites. Why aren’t they attacked for taking people out of context? This is a 25-minute production. That’s longer than most TV sitcoms.”
Gennai further said that her talking about the 2020 election referred to Google’s Trust and Safety team, where she used to work, and its efforts “to help prevent the types of online foreign interference that happened in 2016.”
“Google has repeatedly been clear that it works to be a trustworthy source of information, without regard to political viewpoint,” she said. “In fact, Google has no notion of political ideology in its rankings.”
Yet this explanation doesn’t seem to square with her comments in the video: “We all got screwed over in 2016, again it wasn’t just us, it was, the people got screwed over, the news media got screwed over, like, everybody got screwed over so we’ve rapidly been like, ‘What happened there and how do we prevent it from happening again?’”
Social media companies acknowledged that Russia ran some influence operations on their platforms before the 2016 election. But “the scale was quite small and there’s not much evidence that they were effective,” wrote election forecaster Nate Silver in a December tweet. “If you wrote out a list of the most important factors in the 2016 election, I’m not sure that Russian social media memes would be among the top 100.”
If you wrote out a list of the most important factors in the 2016 election, I’m not sure that Russian social media memes would be among the top 100. The scale was quite small and there’s not much evidence that they were effective.
— Nate Silver (@NateSilver538) December 18, 2018
Gennai didn’t explain how the Russian operation could “screw over” Google, American people, and even the news media.
Moreover, she was recorded as saying: “We’re also training our algorithms, like, if 2016 happened again, would we have, would the outcome be different?”
She didn’t explain why Google would be interested in the outcome of the election if it only aimed at stopping foreign interference.
What Gennai didn’t mention, O’Keefe pointed out, was the word “Russia.”
The word she did mention was “Trump.”
Gennai said presidential candidate Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) was “misguided” in calling for breaking up Google.
“Like, that will not make it better it will make it worse, because all these smaller companies who don’t have the same resources that we do will be charged with preventing the next Trump situation, it’s like a small company cannot do that,” she was recorded as saying.
Maggie Stanphill, Google’s Digital Wellbeing lead, was questioned about the Project Veritas exposé by Senate Commerce Committee member Ted Cruz (R-Tex.) on June 25.
She said Google considers itself a neutral public forum and that she didn’t agree with Gennai’s statement to the effect that it’s Google’s job “preventing the next Trump situation.”
She said Google “builds for … every political affiliation” and that she didn’t agree with the notion put out in one of the internal documents that Google should “intervene for fairness” in its machine-learning algorithms.
On some other questions, she didn’t give a direct answer as they were outside of her purview.
Cruz didn’t seem convinced.
“These documents raise very serious questions about political bias at the company,” he concluded.
Rep. Louis Gohmert (R-Tex.) shared his skepticism too, saying that even if Gennai’s words were “taken out of context,” what she said was “very clear.”
“They do not intend to allow Trump to be reelected or anyone like Trump to ever be elected again. And unfortunately they do have that much power,” he told The Epoch Times’ Jan Jekielek. “So many rely on Google to find out what’s going on. You put something in for a search and it takes you to the things that they want you to know and not the things they don’t want you to know. So it is pretty scary actually.”
He backed the idea that Google should be broken up into smaller companies.
“We shouldn’t have one corporation so powerful that they can, by themselves, decide who gets elected president,” he said.
Shortly after Cruz finished his questioning, Project Veritas released another document leaked from Google—an email calling Prager U, Jordan Peterson, and Ben Shapiro “nazis using dog whistles.”
Prager U produces educational videos on conservative ideas. Jordan Peterson is a Canadian psychologist who came in opposition to some postmodernist ideas popular on the progressive left. Ben Shapiro is a conservative political commentator.
The email proposed that if Google can’t identify “far-right” content, it should disable its “suggestion feature,” likely referring to the feature that suggests to YouTube users other videos to watch.
Google didn’t respond to a request for comment on the second leak.
Besides Gennai, the original Project Veritas report relied on several other sources: a Google employee speaking on the condition of anonymity, a Google software engineer Gaurav Gite also caught on hidden camera, and several internal documents of Google’s.
One of the documents described an effort by Google to manipulate its products to surreptitiously nudge its users toward Google’s preferred worldview.
The unnamed insider said Google has developed so-called “fairness” algorithm to achieve this goal. The existence and purpose of the algorithm was confirmed by Gite.
“They are a highly biased political machine that is bent on never letting somebody like Donald Trump come to power again,” the insider said.
Based on what the employees and the documents say, Google didn’t try to attack Trump’s reelection campaign directly, but instead blamed Trump’s victory on people’s subscribing to “unfairness.” The company then tried to “fix” the “unfairness” by modifying its products to “help society reach a more fair and equitable state.”
The company defined “unfairness” as “unjust or prejudicial treatment that is related to sensitive characteristics such as race, income, sexual orientation, or gender.”
But Gennai was recorded as saying that her job was to bring “fairness” only to people who belong to groups deemed by Google as “historically marginalized.”
“Communities who are in power and have traditionally been in power are not who I’m solving fairness for,” she said.
Running afoul of Google’s “fairness” doctrine then translates to one’s content getting buried in Google products such as YouTube and Google News, according to the unnamed insider.
Based on Gennai’s comments, conservatives would seem more likely to breach the doctrine, because, as she put it, “the same people who voted for the current president do not agree with our definition of fairness.”