Senate Republicans resumed their crusade to convince Americans that the internet is biased against conservatives, holding a hearing Tuesday called “Google and Censorship through Search Engines.”
At the hearing, the Republican majority on the Judiciary Subcommittee on the Constitution accused the search engine of viewpoint discrimination because John Oliver videos are more popular than those made by Fox News personalities Diamond and Silk.
But a ThinkProgress review of campaign finance records reveals that these and other Senate Republicans have received tens of thousands of dollars from Google’s political action committee. And Google’s NetPAC actually gave more to Republican federal candidates than Democratic federal candidates in each of the past four campaign cycles.
The hearing was chaired by Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX). “If Big Tech cannot provide us with evidence, clear compelling data and evidence, that it’s not playing Big Brother with its vast, immense powers, there’s no reason on Earth why Congress should give them a special subsidy through Section 230,” he demanded, suggesting that Google and other tech companies should be treated as guilty until proven innocent.
The “special subsidy” Cruz referenced is simply a legal protection that ensures search engines are not legally liable for the content of the pages they index.
After Cruz grilled Karan Bhatia, Google’s company’s vice president for government affairs & public policy at the hearing, the Texas Republican released a statement on his official website with the headline “Sen. Cruz: Google Subjects the American People to Overt Censorship and Covert Manipulation.”
But Cruz’s view that Google is biased has not stopped him from taking its money. Since his first campaign in 2012, he has taken at least $22,500 in Google PAC contributions. $10,000 of that came in his closer-than-expected 2018 re-election effort.
He was joined at the hearing by Sen. Marsha Blackburn (R-TN), who also repeated the widely-debunked claims of anti-conservative bias by net service providers.
Increasingly, we hear stories of influential conservative voices being muffled by Silicon Valley. This afternoon @senjudiciary we’ll hear from @Karan_K_Bhatia about how @Google will ensure all voices are treated equally across their platforms.
— Sen. Marsha Blackburn (@MarshaBlackburn) July 16, 2019
In a revealing line of questioning, Blackburn made it clear that she believes fairness requires Google and other companies to present less popular conservative content as much as more popular neutral or progressive content.
“Google should equally promote video reporting in its search results whether the article is from CNN or from Fox News,” she argued. She then made the same suggestions for content from “Huffington Post or Breitbart” and “Diamond and Silk [or] John Oliver.” As Bhatia tried to explain algorithms to the Tennessee Republican, she quickly cut him off.
Blackburn has received $9,500 in Google PAC contributions since the 2012 campaign cycle.
Neither Blackburn’s nor Cruz’s offices immediately responded to requests to comment on Google’s contributions and whether the two lawmakers would continue accepting those donations in the future.
On Wednesday, Sen. Josh Hawley (R-MO) also went on Fox News to complain about Google and other tech companies.
“What we learned is that Google is not being honest. What we learned is that there are studies out there showing that Google, in this country right now, is discriminating against conservative viewpoints, is discriminating against those who support the president,” Hawley claimed. “And we know Google has a history of ideological censorship and ideological discrimination. We can’t take their word for it. We have got to hold them accountable.”
Hawley has proposed legislation — ostensibly to prevent internet censorship — that would allow the Federal Trade Commission to decide which internet companies are sufficiently viewpoint neutral and to punish those it deems are not.