Almost exactly a year ago (July 16, 2019), Dr. Robert Epstein testified before Judiciary Subcommittee SD 226 about Facebook’s undue influence in US elections.
Unfortunately, I have not seen evidence that any of the concerns raised by Dr. Epstein have been addressed as we speed toward the November 2020 presidential elections.
I didn’t post this on my blog last year — I think I only shared it on Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn — but since its relevance remains, I’m posting it here today.
STC – Senator Ted Cruz
DRE – Dr Robert Epstein
FULL TRANSCRIPT (with timecode)
STC: As I understand your background: you’re not a Republican and nor are you a conservative. Is that accurate?
DRE: That would be an understatement.
STC: And indeed you’re the former editor-in-chief of Psychology Today.
STC: So you’re a respected academic. You testified before this committee that Google’s manipulation of votes gave at least 2.6 million additional votes to Hillary Clinton in the year 2016. Is that correct?
DRE: That’s correct.
STC: And I want to make sure I understand: you personally supported and voted for Hillary Clinton.
DRE: I was a very strong public supporter of Hillary Clinton. Yes.
STC: So you’re not dismayed that people voted for her, but your testimony is that Google is — through bias in search results — manipulating voters in a way they’re not aware of?
DRE: On a massive scale. And what I’m saying is that I believe in democracy. I believe in the free and fair election more than I have any kind of allegiance to a candidate or a party.
STC: And looking forward — if I understood your testimony correctly — you said in subsequent elections, Google and Facebook and Twitter and big text manipulation could manipulate as many as 15 million votes in a subsequent election?
DRE: In 2020, if all these companies are supporting the same candidate, there are 15 million votes on the line that can be shifted without people’s knowledge and without leaving a paper trail for authorities to trace.
STC: Now you described the “Go Vote” reminder and you said it wasn’t a public service announcement but rather manipulation. Can you explain how? I’m not sure everyone followed the details of that.
DRE: Well, sure. If, on Election Day in 2016… if Mark Zuckerberg, for example, had chosen to send out a “Go Vote” reminder, say just to Democrats — and no one would have known if he had done this — that would have given that day an additional at least 450,000 votes to Democrats. And we know this without doubt because of Facebook’s own published data… because they did an experiment (that they didn’t tell anyone about) during the 2010 election. They published it in 2012. It had 60 million Facebook users involved. They sent out a “Go Vote” reminder and they got something like 360,000 more people to get off their sofas and go vote who otherwise would have stayed home. The point is I don’t think that Mr. Zuckerberg sent out that reminder in 2016. I think he was overconfident. I think Google was overconfident (and) that all these companies were. I don’t think he sent that out. Without monitoring systems in place, we’ll never know what these companies are doing.
DRE: But the point is: In 2018, I’m sure they were more aggressive. We have lots of data to support that. And in 2020? You can bet that all of these companies are going to go all out and the methods that they’re using are invisible. They are subliminal. They’re more powerful than most any effects I’ve ever seen in the Behavioral Sciences, and I’ve been in the Behavioral Sciences for almost 40 years.
STC: You know our Democratic colleagues on this committee often talk about what they view as the pernicious effect of big money and big corporate dollars. What you are testifying to is that a handful of Silicon Valley billionaires and giant corporations are able to spend millions of dollars — if not billions of dollars — collectively, massively influencing the results of elections, and there’s no accountability.
STC: You said we don’t know… We have no way of knowing if Google or Facebook or Twitter sends it sends its Democrats or Republicans or how they bias it, because it’s a black box with no transparency or accountability whatsoever. Am I understanding you correctly?
DRE: Senator, with respect, I must correct you.
DRE: If Mark Zuckerberg chooses to send out a “Go Vote” reminder just to Democrats on Election Day, that doesn’t cost him a dime.
STC: Fair enough. Do you happen to know who the Hillary Clinton campaign’s number one financial supporter was in the year 2016?
DRE: I think I do. But please remind me.
STC: The number one financial supporter of the Hillary Clinton campaign in the 2016 election was the parent company of Google — Alphabet — who was our first witness. They were her number one financial donor. And your testimony is: through their deceptive search methods, they moved 2.6 million votes in her direction. I would think anybody — whether or not you favor one camp or another — should be deeply dismayed about a handful of Silicon Valley billionaires having that much power over our elections to silently and deceptively shift vote outcomes.
DRE: Again, with respect, I must correct you. The 2.6 million is a rock-bottom minimum. The range is between 2.6 and 10.4 million, depending on how aggressively they used the techniques that I’ve been studying now for six-and-a-half years.
STC: Wow. Could you just say that again, please?
DRE: The 2.6 million is a rock bottom minimum: The range is between 2.6 and 10.4 million votes, depending on how aggressive they were in using the techniques that I’ve been studying, such as the search engine manipulation effect, the search suggestion effect, the answer bot effect, and a number of others. They control these and no one can counteract them. These are not competitive. These are tools that they have at their disposal exclusively.
STC: If any headline comes out of this hearing, that should be it.