“If you want positive search results, do positive things. If you don’t want negative search results, don’t do negative things.”
That’s what Rep. Ted Lieu (D-Calif.) told his Republican colleagues on the House Judiciary Committee on Tuesday during a hearing that featured testimony from Google CEO Sundar Pichai and amid ongoing, yet unfounded, complaints by right-wing lawmakers and commentators that the search giant is biased against them.
To make his point, Lieu used the example of Google news searches he did on two House Republicans named Steve: one was Steve Scalise of Louisiana, and the other was Steve King of Iowa.
After reading aloud headlines from each set of results – the Scalise articles were generally positive, while the King results noted his record of racists remarks and retweets – and asking Pichai to confirm that the algorithms of the search engine don’t order results based on ideological leanings, the congressman offered some advice.
“To some of my colleagues across the aisle, if you’re getting bad press articles and bad search results,” Lieu said, “don’t blame Google or Facebook or Twitter, consider blaming yourself.”
.@tedlieu admonishes colleagues: “If you want positive search results, do positive things. If you don’t want negative search results, don’t do negative things. And to my colleagues, if you’re getting bad results, don’t blame Google or Twitter, consider blaming yourself.” 🔥🔥🔥 pic.twitter.com/Gby0jZbL8x
— Aaron Rupar (@atrupar) December 11, 2018
According to reporting, King “became visibly perturbed” in response to Lieu’s stunt and remarks.
Although Lieu’s study is not scientific, the company maintains that “search is not used to set a political agenda, and we don’t bias our results toward any political ideology.”
As Jeremy Gillula, tech policy director at the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF), explained to Politifact earlier this year, Google’s news search algorithms “depend on a lot of factors, including what other people are searching for, what they’re clicking on, what sites link to a given search result, whether the website is optimized for mobile, and even whether the site supports encrypted HTTPS.”
“With all that said,” Gillula added, “Google’s search algorithms are still a black box, and we’d prefer if Google gave users more information and control over the factors that influence search results.”
The hearing came as Pichai is under pressure from rights advocates across the globe—including EFF—over reports that the company is working on a search engine for China called Project Dragonfly, which supposedly would cater the Chinese government’s demands regarding censorship and surveillance. Asked about such plans by multiple lawmakers, Pichai repeatedly claimed that Google currently “has no plans to launch in China.”
Watch the full hearing: