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Sen. Cruz: Google Subjects the American People to Overt Censorship and Covert Manipulation

Chairs hearing investigating Google’s pattern of political bias and censorship

July 16, 2019

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202-228-7561

WASHINGTON, D.C. - U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas), chairman of the Senate Committee on the Judiciary's Subcommittee on The Constitution, today convened a hearing titled, "Google and Censorship through Search Engines." The hearing will focus on political bias and censorship by Google, and will include testimony from a representative from Google and Dennis Prager of PragerU. Livestream of Sen. Cruz's hearing may be viewed here.

As chairman, Sen. Cruz held a hearing in April with representatives from Facebook and Twitter, where he raised concerns over social media bias and censorship.

"If Big Tech cannot provide us with evidence, clear compelling data and evidence, that it's not playing Big Brother with its vast, immense powers, there's no reason on Earth why Congress should give them a special subsidy through Section 230," Sen. Cruz said. "And that takes us to the heart of the problem. Big Tech is anything but transparent. Google is happy to collect data on everyone, everywhere, constantly, on you, on me, on all of us. They make sure they know what you search, what you shop for online, what you like. They track your location within a matter of feet so that they know when you visit a physical store. But the information sharing is a one-way street. This must change. Google cannot simply hide behind its algorithms. Big Tech's algorithms and search engines only do what humans at companies like Google tell them to do. Just as Big Tech needs and wants data on all of us, the American people need and want data on Big Tech. They need it to profit; we need it to protect free speech."

Sen. Cruz's opening remarks may be viewed here and below:

"Welcome, welcome to our witnesses. This past April, this Subcommittee held a hearing on social media bias with witnesses from Facebook and Twitter. As I noted then, any inquiry into Big Tech's censorship practices must take an especially hard look at Google. That's what we are doing here today.

"Google's control over what people hear, watch, read, and say is unprecedented. Almost 90 percent of all internet searches in the United States use Google. Google's domination of the search engine market is so complete that ‘to Google' is now a commonplace verb.

"With that market power, Google can and often does control our discourse. And sometimes tech companies talk about their products and the effects of those products on the American people, as though their forces outside Big Tech's control. As we've heard time and again, Big Tech's favorite defense is: ‘It wasn't me-the algorithm did it.'

"But Google's search engine isn't some supernatural force. It's a computer program written and maintained by people. So every time we search on Google, we see only the web pages that Google decides we should see, in the order that Google decides we should see them. Type a few letters into the search bar and Google will tell you what you should be looking for.

"The same is true of Google subsidiary YouTube-the second most visited webpage in existence. When you search on YouTube, programs written by people at YouTube provide you with the results. When you watch a video, a program written by the people at YouTube suggests what you should watch next. And when you submit a video, people at YouTube determine whether you've engaged in so-called hate speech-an ever-changing and vague standard meant to give censorship an air of legitimacy.

"This is a staggering amount of power to ban speech, to manipulate search results, to destroy rivals, and to shape culture. More and more Americans are demanding accountability from Big Tech for that massive power.

"One thing is certain. Congress never intended to empower large technology companies to control our speech when it passed Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act.

"That provision, Section 230, gave tech companies special privileges that nobody else gets.

"If the New York Times or the Wall Street Journal were to publish an op-ed that libeled a private citizen, they can be held responsible. This is the case even when those organizations don't write the content that breaks the law: they can be held responsible merely for publishing it.

"Not so for companies like Google and YouTube. If someone uses one of those services to commit slander, or to transmit classified material, or to traffic guns or drugs, far too often Google is off the hook. Section 230 makes them immune. Big Tech gets a perk, a subsidy, that no one else does-Fox News, MSNBC, or anybody else.

"This immunity, however, was part of a deal. It was a trade. Section 230, the text of it refers to the Internet as ‘a forum for a true diversity of political discourse.' That was the trade at the heart of Section 230. This is because we expected tech companies in the business of carrying others' speech wouldn't favor any side when they did so. There wouldn't be a conservative internet and a liberal internet: there would just be the internet.

"That bargain today is falling apart. Big Tech continues to reap the benefits of a Section 230 subsidy. But the American people do not. The American people are instead subject to both overt censorship and covert manipulation.

"I believe it's time to rethink that deal. If Big Tech cannot provide us with evidence, clear compelling data and evidence, that it's not playing Big Brother with its vast, immense powers, there's no reason on Earth why Congress should give them a special subsidy through Section 230.

"And that takes us to the heart of the problem. Big Tech is anything but transparent. Google is happy to collect data on everyone, everywhere, constantly, on you, on me, on all of us. They make sure they know what you search, what you shop for online, what you like. They track your location within a matter of feet so that they know when you visit a physical store. But the information sharing is a one-way street. This must change. Google cannot simply hide behind its algorithms. Big Tech's algorithms and search engines only do what humans at companies like Google tell them to do.

"Just as Big Tech needs and wants data on all of us, the American people need and want data on Big Tech. They need it to profit; we need it to protect free speech. And I hope that today Google will start to answer some of our questions fully and candidly so that we can assess how we can work together to protect the robust marketplace of ideas that American political discourse has been built upon."

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