Wednesday, July 29, 2020

Top researcher, a Democrat, warns Big Tech is stealing election from Trump


President Donald J. Trump waves as he disembarks Air Force One at Miami International Airport Friday, July 10, 2020, and is greeted by state and local officials. (Official White House photo by Tia Dufour)

For Harvard-trained research psychologist and Democratic voter Robert Epstein, the question isn't whether or not Google and other Silicon Valley giants are manipulating their searches and feeds to make sure Donald Trump doesn't win reelection.

A supporter of Hillary Clinton in 2016 and Joe Biden in 2020, he told WND in an interview Wednesday he has statistical evidence to back up the tech titans' bias, derived from more than seven years of research, internal documents, emails, videos and the testimony of whistleblowers.

He has testified to Congress that Google manipulation of search results could have cost Trump 2.6 million votes in 2016. In 2020, he believes, as many as 15 million votes could be manipulated.

And as Silicon Valley CEOs testified to Congress Wednesday about their outsized influence, there was "anecdotal" evidence, such as the claim of Breitbart News that Google has manipulated its algorithm to curb traffic to the site and those of other conservative outlets. On May 1, for example, a Google search for "Joe Biden" resulted in 30,000 impressions for Breitbart News links. After May 5, it dropped to zero.

Robert Epstein

What is needed now, Epstein believes, is to follow up his research in 2016 and 2018 with a large-scale system of field agents in every swing state to monitor Google, YouTube, Twitter, Facebook and others in real time.

He had the funding lined up to launch the ambitious project in February, but the money "dried up" he said, when the coronavirus hit and "sucked all of the oxygen out of Washington."

Now, with interest returning to the election, he has the people and systems in place and just needs the money. Many small donations have come in, he said, but he needs much more to pull it off – about $10 million.

He emphasized to WND he is not a Trump supporter but a "supporter of democracy." He wants Joe Biden to win, but he wants the election to be fair, recognizing that in the future the tech giants could put their massive power behind a candidate he doesn't want.

"It's not in our interest to turn the election over to Google and the gang," he said. "To give them carte blanche is insane."

The goal of his monitoring project is to force the tech companies "to back off in the swing states."

"And when we do get them to back off, we will be able to detect that," he said.

But much more funding is needed "to do this in a credible way that would be taken seriously by the courts and also by mainstream media."

"We have people on standby, we have a very ambitious program of what we want to monitor," explained Epstein, a senior research psychologist at the American Institute for Behavioral Research and Technology in Vista, California.

The plan is to do a "real time analysis so we can make announcements almost every day if we find bias in news feeds, tweet suppression and the sequence of YouTube videos."

All of that would be reported to Congress, journalists and the Federal Trade Commission.

He said he's getting calls from Congress members, senators, attorneys general and others, but there's no money.

"There is so much as stake here that I'm dumbfounded," he said. "This is the watershed year, where we either turn over democracy to the tech companies – and maybe never get it back again – or we fight them."

Epstein – who was famed behavioral psychologist B.F. Skinner's last Ph.D. student at Harvard – has been a research psychologist for nearly 40 years. He has served in various editorial positions at Psychology Today magazine and Scientific American MIND. He's the author of 15 books and more than 300 scientific and mainstream articles on artificial intelligence and other topics.

'Serious threat to democracy'

In testimony one year ago to the Senate Judiciary Subcommittee on the Constitution, he emphasized he is "not a conservative."

"I am here today for three reasons: to explain why Google presents a serious threat to democracy and human autonomy, to explain how passive monitoring systems can protect us both now and in the future from companies like Google, and to tell you how Congress can immediately end Google’s worldwide monopoly on search."

Google CEO Sundar Pichai testifies in a House hearing Dec. 11, 2018 (video screenshot)

He found in 2016 that biased results generated by Google's search algorithm likely impacted undecided voters in a way that gave at least 2.6 million votes to Hillary Clinton.

He based that on his preservation of more than 13,000
election-related searches conducted by a diverse group of Americans on Google, Bing, and Yahoo in the weeks leading up to the election.

Google search results were significantly biased in favor of Clinton, he found, in all 10 positions on the first page of search results in both blue states and red states.

Epstein said he knows the number of votes that shifted because he conducted dozens of controlled experiments in the U.S. and other countries that measure precisely how opinions and votes shift when search results favor one candidate, cause or company.

He calls the shift "SEME," for the Search Engine Manipulation Effect.

His first scientific paper on SEME was published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences in 2015. SEME, he noted, also has been replicated by a research team at one of the Max Planck Institutes in Germany.

Epstein warned that SEME is one of the most powerful forms of influence ever discovered in the behavioral sciences, particularly because it is invisible to people, or subliminal, in effect.

"It leaves people thinking they have made up their own minds, which is very much an illusion," he told the Senate Committee. "It also leaves no paper trail for authorities to trace. Worse still, the very few people who can detect bias in search results shift even farther in the direction of the bias, so merely being able to see the bias doesn't protect you from it."

SEME, he said, is an example of an "ephemeral experience," deliberately engineered to change someone's thinking.

Epstein noted to WND on Wednesday that Google internal emails leaked to the Wall Street Journal showed the company created "ephemeral experiences" to change people's views about Trump's ban on travel from terrorist nations.

"These companies understand what's at stake and that's why they are being so brazen," he said. "If they are brazen about Breitbart, imagine what they are doing with ephemeral experiences and search results."

He also pointed to the power of YouTube's manipulation of videos through its "up-next" algorithm, which pushes to users subsequent videos of YouTube's choice.

Some 70% of videos people watch on YouTube are suggested by its up next algorithm, Epstein said.

He and his team are studying and measuring the power that algorithm possesses to influence votes and opinions.

"If a platform wants to shift people's views and votes, you can't counteract what they're doing," he said. "In most cases, you can't even see what they are doing – unless you are monitoring."

Epstein said a member of the Senate committee asked him for questions to pose to the Big Tech CEOs on Wednesday.

"Generally speaking they are not asking the right questions," he said of the lawmakers.

Epstein said he could give some of the CEOs, including Google parent Alphabet's Sundar Pichai, "a stroke on live TV ... because I know the truth."

"It's not just I know the numbers, but I've been talking to whistleblowers for quite a while and talking about people who are considering becoming whistleblowers," Epstein said.

He believes a significant way to hold the tech titans accountable is for states to bring charges for illegal in-kind contributions.

"If you are Facebook sending targeted messages only to Democrats to vote, that is a massive in-kind campaign contribution that is illegal," he contended.

'Debunked' study?

Last August, as WND reported, President Trump spotlighted Epstein's study concluding Google manipulated millions of votes in favor of Hillary Clinton in 2016.

The former secretary of state responded, contending the study had been "debunked."

Hillary Clinton speaking at the Brown & Black Presidential Forum at Sheslow Auditorium at Drake University in Des Moines, Iowa, Jan. 11, 2016 (Gage Skidmore, Wikimedia Commons)

Epstein, who voted for Clinton in 2016, fired back on Twitter, stating "to my knowledge no credible authority has ever 'debunked' either my 2016 and 2018 election monitoring projects or my controlled studies on internet influence."

Epstein pointed out his "2016 monitoring findings were based on an analysis of 13,207 election-related searches, along with the 98,044 web pages to which the search results linked."

He said the "pro-Hillary bias was significant at the .001 level."

In his testimony to the Senate in July, Epstein warned that Google is working to ensure that Trump does not win reelection in 2020.

In an interview with WND in December 2018, Epstein pointed to a video leaked in September 2018 that showed Google executives at their first weekly meeting after the election of Donald Trump in 2016 exhibiting panic and dismay while expressing their determination to thwart the new administration's agenda as well as the emerging global populist movement.

"You heard people saying it. It's not my imagination," Epstein said.

Noting again that he voted for Clinton, he told WND, "I don’t care whether I share those values or not, a private company not elected by the people should not have that kind of power."

But Google has that power in 200 countries around the world, not just in the U.S., he noted.

"That's obscene," Epstein said.

He estimated that the outcomes of about 25% of elections around the world are being determined by Google’s search algorithm.

Not politically neutral

A senior software engineer at Google admitted in a July 2019 interview with Project Veritas that the tech giants are not politically neutral and that his company manipulates search algorithms "to do what we want them to do."

"It's time to decide, do we run the technology, or does the technology run us?" said Greg Coppola, who worked on artificial intelligence and the popular Google Assistant software.

"Are we going to just let the biggest tech companies decide who wins every election from now on?"

After the interview was published, Google put Coppola on administrative leave.

Project Veritas asked Coppola about CEO Pichai's testimony to Congress in December 2018 in which he insisted Google's algorithms are politically unbiased.

Coppola began by expressing his respect for Sundar as a manager and noted that the Google Assistant on which he works, the counterpart to Apple's Siri, "really doesn't have a political bias."

However, regarding Google's algorithms, he said it's "ridiculous to say that there's no bias."

"I think everyone who supports anything other than the Democrats, anyone who's pro-Trump or in any way deviates from what CNN and the New York Times are pushing, notices how bad it is," he said.


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