Suspicions of political bias in big tech companies are nothing new. Many people have suspected tech companies of being more left-leaning. Recent events and studies, however, are slowly turning these suspicions into facts. This political bias is detrimental not only to the companies and their users but also to the country.
A recent study by Northwestern University showed Google’s search engine ranked left-leaning political sites higher on its news feed. According to the survey, 86 percent of Google’s top stories over the course of a month came from 20 left-wing news sites. Out of these 20 sources, CNN, the New York Times, and the Washington Post were leading the pack.
Google is not the only tech company credibly accused of bias. Facebook and Twitter have also been denounced for censoring right-leaning accounts and groups in their respective platforms. The three tech companies were summoned to a congressional hearing last year to explain themselves.
One might think that these cases of political bias are isolated to the big tech companies but nothing could be further from the truth. Silicon Valley, a region known to be at the vanguard of technological development in the United States, is a very left-leaning place located in a deep blue state.
The services these companies offer have become deeply rooted in our daily lives. This can give them the power to influence politics on a scale greater than any lobbying group could imagine. According to a Pew Research Center survey, 38 percent of Americans get their news from the internet. Among that group, roughly 50 percent of younger adults (ages 18-49) get their news online. Google’s preference for left-wing corporate media strongly shapes public opinion in ways not even television could.
A Nation at Risk?
Many tech companies face a backlash from their own employees when it comes to Pentagon contracts. Google employees rebelled, for example, when the company began work on an artificial intelligence system for drones called Project Maven. Microsoft workers resisted the company’s work on an augmented reality system for the Defense Department using their HoloLens technology for combat and training.
The dangers should be apparent. China is investing billions in A.I. projects with military applications while U.S. tech firms wring their hands. We know, too, that China is working hard on its cyber warfare capabilities while the U.S. military struggles to keep up its defenses. Recall how last year a U.S. Navy contractor working on undersea warfare projects lost 614 gigabytes of highly classified data as the result of a Chinese hack. More recently, worries over LockerGoga ransomware are growing in light of a March attack against raw materials producer Norsk Hydro as Congress debates a $2 billion infrastructure bill, which includes money for defenses against cyber attacks on vital civilian infrastructure.
Silicon Valley’s bias also affects right-leaning professionals trying to get into the tech industry. Prospective employees might feel discouraged from applying to a company with a strong political bias against their own beliefs while current workers have every reason to hide their political views for fear of backlash. Recall the case of James Damore, the Google engineer who lost his job after sharing a controversial memorandum questioning the company’s diversity hiring policies. (The company currently is facing a massive class-action lawsuit from 8,000 current and former female employees, who allege widespread sex discrimination.)
We could say that political bias has no place in giant tech companies, which ostensibly serve the general public regardless of political belief. We could say that, but it would be folly—putting hope over experience. Google, Facebook, and Twitter exercise an outsized influence on public discourse. With the 2020 presidential elections looming, these powerful corporations will shape voters’ perceptions of the race, just as they already influence our nation’s defense. How can a free, self-governing republic allow that to continue?
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