Tuesday, Google CEO Sundar Pichai fielded questions from the House Judiciary Committee regarding privacy concerns and alleged bias against conservatives. In an epic takedown, Rep. Jim Jordan (R-Ohio) put Pichai on the hotseat, making him squirm.
Jordan: “Mr. Pichai, in your opening statement you said ‘I lead this company without political bias and work to ensure that our products operate that way.’ Eliana Murillo is Google’s head of multicultural marketing. Does Ms. Murillo do good work?”
Jordan: “Well you praised her work the day after the 2016 election. In a four page email she wrote about her work with the Latino vote she said ‘even Sundar gave our effort a shoutout.’ Is she referring to you, there?”
Pichai: “She was referring to my communication around translation for a different related effort.”
Jordan: “Okay, well I’m gonna look at two other sentences she had in that long email, again recapping her work in the 2o16 election with the Latino vote. She said this: ‘We pushed to get out the Latino vote with our features.’ A few lines down in her email she qualified that sentence and she said ‘We pushed to get out the Latino vote with out features in key states,’ and she specifically cites the states Florida and Nevada. Near the end of her email in a similar sentence she says ‘We supported partners like Voto Latino to pay for rides to the polls in key states.’ You with me? I wanna kind of analyze those two sentences. Is it fair to say the ‘We’ in those sentences, Mr. Pichai, refers to Google?”
Pichai: “Um, Congressman, we, we, we are very concerned over allegations like that. We, we are – ”
Jordan: “I’m not asking you that question. I’m asking you, is it fair to say the ‘We’ in both sentences refers to the company Google?”
Pichai: “As Google we don’t participate in any partisan efforts around any civic process, so I don’t think so.”
Jordan: “Okay, so this – ‘We pushed and we supported partners like Voto Latino to pay for rides to polls in key states and we pushed to get out the Latino vote during the 2016 election’ – and how were they getting that done? They were getting that done by, according to Ms. Murillo, your head of multicultural marketing, by altering your features or configuring your features in such a way and for paying for rides to get people to the polls. Is that accurate? That’s all I’m asking – is it fair to say that that’s what those sentences are talking about?
Pichai: “I’m not aware of all of the specifics but we did look into it – we found no evidence that there were any activities like that from Google, uh, as an organization.”
Jordan: “So she’s not telling the truth?”
Pichai: “For sure, we didn’t find any supporting evidence of any such activity.”
Jordan: “She said she paid for rides to the polls, and they configured their features in such a way as to get out the Latino vote. And look – I actually think that’s all okay. I think that that’s just a good corporate citizen encouraging voter participation, encouraging people to participate in our election process. I think so far those sentence are just fine. But then there’s three words at the end of each sentence that do cause me real concern. And those three words are ‘We pushed to get out the Latino vote with out features in key states.’ Now suddenly it gets political. ‘We supported partners like Voto Latino to pay for rides to the polls in key states.‘ Now that makes everything different. So I’ve got really just one question for you: Why? Why did Google configure its features and pay for rides to the polls to get out the Latino vote only in key states?”
Pichai: “Congressman, sincerely we found no evidence to substantiate those claims. The only effort we do around elections – ”
Jordan: “So your head of multicultural marketing, who you praised her work in this email, gave her a shoutout, was lying when she said you were trying to get out the Latino vote in key states?”
Pichai: “We, today, in the U.S., around elections – we make it – and this is what users look to us for – where to register to vote, where to find you nearest polling place, what are the hours they are open, and we do those things -”
Jordan: “That’s not what I’m asking. I appreciate that Mr. Pichai and I already said that’s just being a good corporate citizen. What I’m asking is why did you only do it in key states?”
Pichai: “We didn’t do any such activity as Google on any of these key states. I mean, there are employees, I think they are parts -”
Jordan: “Did you push to get out the Latino vote in all states?
Pichai: “As Google, we don’t have goals around pushing to get out any particular segment. We don’t participate in partisan activities. We engage with both campaigns. We support and sponsor debates across both sides of the aisle, and we provide users with information to get their election.”
Jordan: “Your head of multicultural marketing said you were pushing to get out the Latino vote, paying for rides to the polls for the Latino vote only in key states, and you’re saying that’s not accurate?”
Pichai: “Yes that’s right. We haven’t found any evidence to substantiate – ”
Jordan: “So she just made it up out of thin air the day after the election and wrote this email to your top executives, and it’s not true?”
Pichai: “Congressman, happy to follow up, but the employees today do their own activities.”
Jordan: “I don’t want the follow up. I wan’t the real answers right here in this committee.”
Pichai: “As I’ve said earlier we’ve looked into it. We didn’t find -”
Jordan: “Did you push to get out the key vote in – I would say the two most populous states for Latinos would be California and Texas – did you push to get out the Latino vote and pay for people to go to the polls in California and Texas?”
Pichai: “We as a company did not undertake any effort to push out votes for any particular demographic that would be against our principles. We participate in the civic process in a, in a nonpartisan way. We think it’s really important we do it that way.”
Jordan: “Well I just think it’s interesting – Mr. Chairman I know I’m over time – I just think it’s interesting that their head of multicultural marketing writes an email the day after the election where she talks about 71 percent of Latino votes voted for Hillary, but that wasn’t enough, and she talks about paying for rides to the polls in key states for Latino votes, to get out the Latino votes in key states and the head of the company says that’s not accurate.”
Pichai sat dumbfounded in silence before the Chairman directed that the Committee move on to the next member. Watch the live hearings here.
Twitter Launches Crowdsourced Fact-Checking System Called “Birdwatch” to Fight “Misinformation”
Who saw this coming?
Twitter has rolled out a new feature to fight what they consider to be “misinformation.”
The new feature, released Monday, is called Birdwatch. In a post on the Twitter Blog, Vice President of Product Keith Coleman writes that Birdwatch will allow people to identify information in tweets that “they believe is misleading” and to write notes “that provide informative context.”
“We believe this approach has the potential to respond quickly when misleading information spreads, adding context that people trust and find valuable,” Coleman said.
As of now Birdwatch is a standalone site, though Twitter claims they will eventually make notes posted to Birdwatch directly visible on certain tweets.
VP of Product Coleman continues: “In this first phase of the pilot, notes will only be visible on a separate Birdwatch site. On this site, pilot participants can also rate the helpfulness of notes added by other contributors. These notes are being intentionally kept separate from Twitter for now, while we build Birdwatch and gain confidence that it produces context people find helpful and appropriate. Additionally, notes will not have an effect on the way people see Tweets or our system recommendations.”
The format of Birdwatch will supposedly combine elements of Wikipedia and Reddit’s moderation tools, according to NBC News. Birdwatch users will be able to flag tweets from a dropdown menu on Twitter itself, but discussion about the flagged tweets will only be able to take place on the Birdwatch site. Birdwatch will also implement a rating system that will allow users to upvote or downvote the notes of others.
This is the logical development of Twitter’s commitment to identify and suppress content they deem “false” or “dangerous.” Keep an eye out for more such features in the future.
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