Project Veritas, the undercover media group founded by convicted fraudster James O’Keefe, has gone to war with Big Tech’s perceived political bias. The power of Silicon Valley, from its censorship to its privacy invasions, has been an incredible force our publication has tried to hold to account. Sadly, O’Keefe’s latest exposes have muddied the waters in the fight for online truth.
Partisan trickery, inter-spliced with some factual threads, isn’t exactly new for O’Keefe. The gonzo journalist, known for his deceptive editing against political rivals such as Planned Parenthood and ACORN, weaved together a narrative about how Google’s key executives planned to “hack the 2020 election” away from Republican President Donald Trump.
O’Keefe’s reports rely on a hidden camera conversation with Jen Gennai, Google’s Head of Responsible Innovation, as well as an anonymous employee with internal company emails claiming their “fairness algorithm”, ironically, has a bias. Throughout the piece, we’ll examine whether there’s legitimacy to these big tech bombshells. Unfortunately for Veritas, there’s not much dice.
“Elizabeth Warren is saying we should break up Google,” Gennai explained over a two-hour dinner conversation. “And like, I love her but she’s very misguided, 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.”
“We all got screwed over in 2016,” she later tells the Veritas agent, asked questions never presented in the video, “and 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’re rapidly been like, what happened there and how do we prevent it from happening again? We’re also training our algorithms, like, if 2016 happened again, would we have, would the outcome be different?”
The assumption here being Google’s executives are secretly unified in wanting to flip the vote blue, when it’s clear she is discussing external interferences in the general election (which either amounts to data-mining from Cambridge Analytica or simple memes from Russia). This is problematic since Google has facilitated similar scandals based on its current powerful monopoly status, as we’ve reported on several occasions. Even out of context, Veritas is either missing the wider stories of monopoly control being raised or highlighting the culture war nothingburgers I’d expect of Fox News or MSNBC.
Gennai’s framed tyrannical bias also doesn’t mean as much considering her position of influence. In her follow-up post on Medium, she informs Veritas that her position is no longer with the Trust and Safety team, responsible for enforcing the potential algorithms described, but rather that Responsible Innovation team who merely draft ethics assessments of the site overall. According to a blog post detailing its conduct, she works alongside a cast of user researchers, social scientists, ethicists, human rights specialists, policy and privacy advisors, and legal experts across the globe on serious topics such as the radicalisation in Myanmar. It’s more than just a one-woman show squabbling over her opinionated politics.
“Veritas has edited the video to make it seem that I am a powerful executive who was confirming that Google is working to alter the 2020 election,” she writes. “On both counts, this is absolute, unadulterated nonsense, of course. In a casual restaurant setting, I was explaining how Google’s Trust and Safety team (a team I used to work on) is working to help prevent the types of online foreign interference that happened in 2016. Google has been very public about the work that our teams have done since 2016 on this, so it’s hardly a revelation.”
“Despite what the video may have you believe,” she continues, “I’m not involved in any of these products, just like I’m not involved in any of the other topics Project Veritas baited me into discussing (whether it’s antitrust, Congress, or the dozens of other topics that didn’t appear in the video, on which I presumably didn’t say anything that could be twisted to their advantage). I was having a casual chat with someone at a restaurant and used some imprecise language. Project Veritas got me. Well done.”
This leaves us with the alleged “brave insider”, a voice-disguised source who claims Google “is bent on never letting somebody like Donald Trump come to power again.” While the video does not show or prove their connection to the company, Veritas intersplices Gennai’s comments with the source’s to suggest they’re talking about the same issues which she’s apparently in charge of, when in reality, we have no idea of the actual questions asked between them. Perhaps releasing the full two-hour conversation could clear these issues up. Of course, don’t hold your breath given O’Keefe’s track record.
To make matters worse, YouTube removed the Veritas report shortly after its released, strengthing a narrative their evidence was just too damning that it required censorship. No matter the merits behind the removal, it paints a narrative vindicating the professional swindlers. In reality, as explained in a piece by The Verge citing YouTube’s privacy guidelines, Gennai is a private citizen with no social following, thus making her exposure in the video unsuitable for their platform. Despite having their own public figure clause, working in the AI ethics department doesn’t exactly apply as celebrity status.
This is strange since she is technically a representative of Google, a monopoly force in the tech world that should be covered by the media, though goes about her harmless work in a private fashion different than her executive employers. “Even if you see Veritas as making a newsworthy point about platform bias,” write journalist Casey Newton and policy director Russell Brandom, “it’s hard to argue that including Gennai’s name and face was necessary to make that point.” Since the report went live, Gennai claims she’s faced accusations of what amounts to political treason and death threats to her own life.
This didn’t stop the president and his supporters from blabbering on about it. During a recent 45-minute monologue on Fox Business News, President Trump vented about how these big tech platforms are “trying to rig the election” from him, basing his entire case on Veritas’ report. “It’s amazing I won the election, because you saw what happened yesterday with Google,” Trump said to the host Maria Bartiromo. “Google is totally biased to the [Democrats].” The so-called free speech candidate went on to suggest “they should be sued” because of their alleged bias, suggesting Gennai expressed “hatred for the Republicans” in the context of that private conversation.
You almost start to feel bad for Gennai given the exploitation at play. The group uses this somewhat related worker to make a “gotcha” about how there’s some search engine manipulation, a legitimate issue we’ve covered previously, which is framed through a partisan lens of “Hillary Clinton’s emails” failing to autocomplete in the results. This is misleading given he compares the term to “Donald Trump’s emails” when Trump never had an email scandal. The same can’t be said of other issues involving the president.
As reported by The Week, the exact same thing happens when you type in terms like “Donald Trump sex,” which only autofills to “and the city” in reference to his TV appearance, rather than his sexual infidelities and numerous rape accusations. The connection between these terms being they’re highly contested political scandals one could argue as conspiracies. This isn’t a case of political bias, but rather political sensitivity where Google’s AI can limit results for the sake of mitigating exposure to debated harmful material. Both are problematic, but a key difference in approach.
The same deception is applied to “dog whistles”. Another report from Veritas cites alleged leaked emails from Google about how Jewish conservative commentators, such as Dennis Prager and Ben Shapiro, are “nazis” for having used the same terminology of the alt-right in their content. This isn’t unreasonable since just the other day, Prager released a video denying the entire existence of white nationalism while Shapiro has made a history of overt demonisation against Muslims while calling science “unique to the west”. Fascist rhetoric isn’t exclusive to white people, unless you want to play tokenist identity politics which both commentators reject.
In reality, assuming these emails are true, Google is talking about the pipeline towards the far-right even through so-called moderate conservative commentators who are Jewish. “If we understand that PragerU, Jordan Peterson, Ben Shapiro et al are nazis using the dog whistles,” writes Liam Hopkins, an unspecified worker for Google, “I can receive these recommendations regardless of what I’m looking at, and I have recorded thousands of internet users sharing the same experience.”
The argument, while an ideological assumption, is these commentators are rhetorically indistinguishable from the radicals they claim they’re separate from, which comes through the algorithm that radical recommendations happen regardless of what is being searched up. “I don’t think correctly identifying far-right content is beyond our capabilities,” he continues, “But if it is, why not go with Meredith’s suggestion of disabling the suggestion feature?” The assumption here being Google is manipulating the search results based on their political leaning, not recommendations based on the hate.
This isn’t discrimination against conservatives, but rather basic moderation against hateful content where conservatives, whether intentionally or not, can fly too close to the sun. It’s almost no different than the story cited in the debate between Tim Pool and David Pakman where innocent Muslims can be banned from these monopolies based on similar rhetoric used by Islamic hate preachers being false flagged. The practice isn’t to target Muslims specifically, but to target the hate broadly, which can catch those too close to the sun. Apply this standard from Muslims to conservatives, suddenly haram’s the word.
From all these lies and falsehoods, the big tech problem deserves a better class of critic than Veritas. These platforms, ready to exploit meta-data and leave AI bots to moderate humans, require more attention when it comes to reporting, scale, enforcement and democratic control. When your problem is about whether hateful and conspiratorial content can be searched and monetised, using conspiracy to justify your existence, you start to give up the game as a dishonest actor. As more narratives are being spun, where corporate liars at Google see through the act, the average people should follow suit.
Thanks for reading! This article was originally published for TrigTent.com, a bipartisan media platform for political and social commentary, truly diverse viewpoints and facts that don’t kowtow to political correctness.
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