WASHINGTON – Throughout history totalitarianism has been associated with storm troopers, blitzkriegs and superior firepower, but a bestselling author and filmmaker says it’s creeping into American culture, subverting privacy rights, instituting censorship, imposing speech codes and threatening free elections – without a government action or a shot being fired.
This “existential threat” facing the U.S. is posed by unaccountable tech monopolies involved in the most massive surveillance programs in the history of the world in which they have romanced citizens to turn over their most precious secrets, which will soon make Google the next $1 trillion monopoly, says Peter Schweizer, president of the Government Accountability Institute, author of “Clinton Cash” and producer of the new film “The Creepy Line.”
It’s all about surveillance capitalism, manipulation of the political culture, blacklisting and the potential for a stealth power coup.
Already, one of the scientists featured in the film claims one-quarter of the world’s elections are already being impacted.
“You don’t see it, it’s not visible – you are not seeing police coming into your house,” explained Schweizer. “But they are, in a real way, like Big Brother, sifting and determining what you should see and what you shouldn’t see. “The problem is you can see storm troopers – you can see the fist of government trying to infringe on your rights – you can’t see what Google is doing because its hidden and we don’t know what we don’t know.”
“The Creepy Line,” exposes the growing power of the big tech companies, primarily Google and Facebook, to shift the opinions, the thinking, the purchases and the votes of the American people on a massive scale without them even being aware of the manipulation.
“Google has the ability to do a lot of things for you – but to the extent that they can do something for you, they can do something to you, and they are doing a lot of things to you,” he warned. “They want to give us advertising and steer our search engines in a certain direction – we all like that because we get good search results. But the problem is they take that information and they weaponize it – they use it against us to manipulate us. That’s the real problem – this ability they have to steer and influence what we are thinking and how we are looking at issues because they determine what information is actually put in front of us.”
With technological advancements exploding at an exponential pace, we have achieved more now than mankind ever has, director of “The Creepy Line” Matthew Taylor explained, but there is a downside.
“We can split the atom for unlimited energy or you can create nuclear weapons,” he says. “There are always two sides and we have to be aware of that other side. Up until now we have never really taken a moment to say ‘what does it all mean?’”
“The Creepy Line” highlights the “disturbing” discoveries of Robert Epstein, the senior research psychologist at the American Institute for Behavioral Research and Technology, who has devoted the past five years investigating online manipulation, surveillance and censorship.
“All three of these are connected to each other: if you are censoring information and people don’t see it, you are manipulating them – you are manipulating their thinking,” the Harvard psychologist told WND. “If you are surveilling them, it’s easier to manipulate them because the more you know about someone, the easier it is to manipulate him or her. The danger has to do with the mountains of information that these companies are accumulating which is being used to manipulate us and to make decisions about us without us even understanding that these decisions are being made. More and more algorithms are being used to make decisions about whether we can get credit, whether we can get a certain job, a certain promotion. People are unaware of that, but that’s what’s happening more and more.”
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Google and Facebook’s access to the public’s most private and personal data not only threatens the electoral process and free speech, but endangers human autonomy, Epstein explained.
“What’s at stake here is not just free and fair elections – it’s not just democracy, its human autonomy,” he warned. “If one or two private companies can manipulate billions of people around the world in significant ways and get away with it, what’s left of human autonomy? It means morning ’til night, we are doing, thinking and feeling things that they want us to do and feel and think as we enrich them, as they accumulate more money. We are losing ourselves and in so doing we are enriching a very small number of people. That’s not the kind of world I think we want to live in.”
Computer scientists featured in the film warn in the film that only a breakup of these powerful tech firms can keep self-government and freedom alive. That’s how serious he sees the problem.
“Humanity will survive, but it won’t be free,” says Epstein, a liberal who favored Hillary Clinton in the 2016 presidential election but who now has become a champion in exposing the bias and censorship of opinions on the right side of the political spectrum.
Epstein warned that all of Google’s software and services are surveillance tools and outlined how consumers can protect themselves and their children from data manipulation. Here are some of what he calls important do’s and don’ts:
“First and foremost, do not use Gmail,” Epstein told WND. “It’s not an email system. From Google’s perspective, it’s just a surveillance tool. Instead of using Gmail, use one of the newer systems which guarantee the privacy of your emails. I use Protonmail, which is at protonmail.com. Proton mail is based in Switzerland, it’s subject to strict Swiss privacy laws and it uses end-to-end encryption to ensure emails are private.
“Do not use Chrome which is Google’s browser. They created Chrome because they weren’t getting quite enough information from your search engine about what websites you were visiting, so they invented a browser, Chrome. Chrome monitors every single thing you do when you are online.
“Do not use the Google search engine. So, what do you do instead? I use a search engine called ‘Start Page.’ Start Page, which is at StartPage.com, gives you full access to Google’s index, but it doesn’t track you. That’s because of an arrangement that they have with Google. Google can cut them off at any time. But in the meantime, instead of using Google.com, use StartPage.com and you’re not tracked.”
He recommends using a browser called “Brave” that is faster than Chrome, doesn’t show advertising at all and it protects your privacy.
Android phones, he argued, are the most unsafe devices: “Do not use Android phones. Android is also Google and Android records what you are doing whether you are online or not online.”
While there is no competitive alternative to Facebook, Epstein emphasized the information consumers publish on Facebook can be “used against you.”
“If it’s important to you to use Facebook to keep in touch with people, just be careful about the information that you post, and recognize that that information is being permanently stored, analyzed and used against you,” he said. “Be careful of what you post on Facebook. You can’t delete Facebook, but there are other things you can do.”
The important frame of mind to have with Google, he says, is search results “serve Google, not the interest of the consumer.”
“When you are searching for information online, look at it critically,” Epstein continues. “Don’t just think that what Google is giving you is the best search result because often times it’s not. The key thing is about being informed.”
What’s the goal? Schweizer has some ideas.
“We need to let Google and these companies know that we don’t consider this acceptable behavior and that we are going to look for alternatives – we are going to embrace alternatives,” he added. “These companies have a sense of social mission, they also want to make money and if they realize that people are going to leave them in droves, I think that that’s going to at least put them on notice that they need to correct.”
The principals behind “The Creepy Line” emphasize the most important thing for consumers to remember: Google and Facebook services are not actually free, says Matthew Taylor, director of the move. He says they will actually and ultimately cost you your free will.
“People need to know there is a cost associated, way beyond monetary, with using these products,” he said. “There is a cost that is far beyond dollar and cents. “It’s your personality, it’s your information, it’s your privacy, it’s your intimacy – it’s being bought and sold and manipulated. And that is something you should know. At the very least the film just starts the conversation.”
“The Creepy Line” unmasks how the tech industry meddles in democratic elections to favor Democratic candidates, Schweizer told WND.
“Particularly the 2016 election between Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump – how did they actually skew search results to benefit Hillary Clinton? We actually walk you through it,” he says. “We actually have academic scholars who studied that in real time in 2016 that had people around the country monitoring the information they were being fed by Google. It’s a very serious academic look at this problem – we don’t just tell you it’s going on, we show you how it’s going on, and that’s what I think will open a lot of peoples’ eyes.”
Epstein, whose research during the 2016 presidential campaign determined that there was a pro-Hillary Clinton bias in Google’s search engine, warned that Google and Facebook’s ability to control information, manipulate data and surveil us imminently jeopardizes democracy. Again, it’s worth nothing, Epstein favored Clinton.
In fact, he estimates that approximately a quarter of the national elections in the world are now being determined by Google.
“At the moment, whether people know it or not, democracy in the United States is little more than an illusion,” he says Google and Facebook are impacting every single day the opinions and the votes of billions of people around the world. Within a few years there will be exceeding 4 billion people who use their services.”
By manipulating its search engine results and algorithms to benefit its preferred candidate, Google subsequently shifts the political inclinations of millions of undecided or swing voters, according to Epstein’s findings.
“What my research has shown over and over again in multiple studies involving thousands of people in core national elections is that one candidate is favored in search engines – that shifts opinions and votes,” he said. “It could easily shift 20 percent or more of the votes of undecided voters, up to 80 percent in some demographic groups. Over time, if search results are favoring one candidate in a big national election in the U.S., that can shift 2 or 3 million votes without anyone knowing that they have been manipulated because people can’t see the bias, the favoritism, in search results.”
He continued: “Experiments show that by manipulating the search suggestions that they are flashing at you, they can turn a 50/50 split amongst undecided voters into an 90/80 split, with no one aware that they are being manipulated and without leaving a paper trail for authorities to track,” he added. “For the record, I am not a conservative, but I love America, I love democracy, I believe in that system of government and I am very concerned that these companies have as much power as they do.”
Manipulating search-engine results isn’t the only way the tech titan assisted the Clinton campaign, Schweizer noted.
“In the 2016 election, while they were conducting themselves as a business, the CEO Eric Schmidt was also a key top advisor to the Clinton campaign. He set up a separate company to help them with data collection. You have lots of senior Google executives that were helping the Hillary Clinton campaign,” he said. “They are certainly entitled to do that, they are citizens. But the problem is when you have this spill over between the tech ability of Google and the tools that they have, benefitting the Clinton campaign.”
“It upends our democracy,” he continued, “because now you have a company making huge amounts of, basically, campaign contributions and there is no accountability for it, no exposure for it. It would be the equivalent of a major corporation like Exxon saying ‘we are going to give all this money to a presidential candidate – we are going to give all this free gasoline to this campaign, but we’re not going to report any of it.’ People would find that outrageous. This is outrageous tenfold because, again, it’s being done in secret and its designed to manipulate what you see and what you don’t see.”
Numerous conservative organizations are being shadow banned or have gone defunct because they have been censored and demonetized by Google and Facebook for allegedly publishing “hate speech.”
The censorship is based entirely on ideological objection and sets a dangerous precedent, Schweizer argued.
“Once you start down the path of censorship and saying ‘we are going to determine that this content you should not be allowed to see,’ the question is where does that stop? It doesn’t stop anywhere,” he said. “I’m not talking about censoring pornographic material, or terrible violence that is caught on video, I’m talking about political communication – once you start doing that, whether it is on the left or on the right, where does it stop?
“There is no line, the line is arbitrary and I don’t think that line should be drawn by this large powerful company that is doing it in secret. Part of the challenge is, we don’t even know where the line is because they can move it whenever they want, invisibly, without us even knowing,” he continued. “It’s affecting people like Prager University. Prager University basically does university lectures in the context of a conservative world view and yet, they are in a massive battle with YouTube right now. YouTube has done all sorts of things to prevent traffic – to really drop the amount of traffic that is going to Prager University.”
Last year, Prager University filed a lawsuit to stop Google and YouTube from unlawfully censoring its educational videos and discriminating against its right to freedom of speech. The lawsuit cites more than 50 PragerU videos which have either been “restricted” or “demonetized” by Google/YouTube because they were deemed “inappropriate” for younger audiences. Their restricted videos includes: “Why America Must Lead,” “The Ten Commandments: Do Not Murder,” “Why Did America Fight the Korean War,” and “The World’s Most Persecuted Minority: Christians.”
Claiming they are combating misinformation online and “hate speech,” top technology companies Apple, Google, Facebook and Spotify, severely restricted the reach of Alex Jones and Infowars in August, erasing most of the posts and videos on their services from Alex Jones’ news website Infowars.
Meanwhile, Google is reportedly launching a censored search engine for China, prompting five Google employees to quit in protest. The search engine under development, known as Dragonfly, is designed to hide search results that China’s authoritarian government wants to suppress, such as information about democracy, free speech, peaceful protest, and human rights, according to an investigation published in August by the Intercept.
If you really want a solid picture of what Google thinks of free speech look at its relationship with China, Epstein argued.
“They are playing ball with a government that rounds up tens of millions of people and just disappears them. That’s who they are willing to work with. That’s their moral compass,” he said. “So they don’t respect our laws, they don’t respect this country.”
Google isn’t the problem, Taylor argued, the problem is that there is only one Google when we should have an environment where there are multiple Googles and real competition.
“There aren’t a lot of alternatives,” he adds. “Unless there would be more companies that would engage and create a bigger market place for search. The problem is you create a new company and Google may buy you. Instagram – bought by Facebook. Or you have WhatsApp, which was bought by Facebook. All these companies are bought up. We have come to a point now, where it used to be I didn’t want to watch television, I didn’t want to engage in technology, I could just stop. But now we are integrated with technology. We can’t stop. This is why I think the film is important. It will hopefully start the conversation with the general public, with the government, with governments all over the world to say ‘Hey, let’s sit down and figure out what does this mean and what do we do.’”
Cultivating skepticism about how much information we reveal online and how information is presented through Google is the first step in resolving the dangers presented by tech monopolies, Taylor asserted.
“There is nothing free in the world,” he reminds. “If you get it free, what’s the cost? The cost may not be worth the free email. The cost is giving up a lot of free intimate data that be sold to advertisers and even government,” he said. “We are in the early days of exploring how do we even get this under control. In the coming years we will hopefully begin undoing some of the damage that’s already be done”
The solution resides in Washington, D.C., and in checking the power of these large corporations; government must regulate the monopoly Google and Facebook have on the dissemination of information, Schweizer contends. Only government is big enough to bring them down to size.
“Google is essentially a monopoly,” says Schweizer. “Even when you are not using Google, but you are using alternative search engines like Yahoo, you are actually still using Google because they are using the Google algorithm for the information. So, a lot of times people don’t even know the extent in which this market saturates.”
Google is supposed to be a neutral platform politically – like a utlility, Schweizer points out.
“[Google’s executives] are liberal, that’s not something they are hiding,” he says. “They are entitled to have those views if they want to. They have First Amendment rights as individuals to do that. The problem is that they are taking those views and they are using it as a means to censor voices they don’t like. At the same time, they are claiming, for regulatory purposes, to be a neutral platform. What Google says is, ‘We are kind of like a telegraph, an old-fashioned telegraph – we are just taking information from point A and taking it to point B, we don’t edit, we don’t censor, we don’t filter.’ We now know that is not true. They are not a neutral platform. I think they are essentially operating as a media company, they ought to be treated as a media company, and that means all kind of issues about market dominance, about market saturation, about how they operate now comes into the fore as far as far as regulation is concerned. The real solution to this problem resides here in Washington, D.C., and of course that terrifies a lot of people – Washington seems to cause a lot of problems, not solve them. But, we need to look at breaking up Google, it’s too large, it’s too powerful, it’s too influential. We need to look at other actions in Washington that can create the market conditions to allow competition to exist.”
But lawmakers are reluctant to take action against the Google and Facebook because are afraid of retaliation by the tech giants, Epstein argued.
“There are a few people within our government who are expressing concern, no question about it,” he said. “There have been hearings – but these people are also concerned to death of Google, because just as Google can erase you or erase me, it can erase these regulators. It can erase these politicians,” he said. “Don’t forget Google also donates to our elected officials, not just to Democrats but to Republicans as well. So, think about that – you’re getting money from this company number one, number two, this big company can erase you. This company can cause you to lose the next election that you are running in. So, it’s hard to mobilize the government to really do much. And there’s another problem too, which is tech companies move fast. Regulations and laws move very, very slow. It’s not clear to me that regulation or law is going to protect us from Google.”
Tech companies operate internationally, and regulations will ultimately be futile, Epstein contends.
“[Laws] might be helpful in some small ways, but I don’t think that is the solution to the problem,” he adds. “The problem is much bigger than what we do see. What we do see is the demotion or the deranking of a company or a candidate – someone like Alex Jones is banned from using different platforms. But it’s what we don’t see that’s operating on a massive scale – that’s where the real threat lies. That has to do with what information these companies, Google and Facebook, selects for us to see and what order that they present the information. That filtering and ordering, that has an impact on the thinking, purchasing, attitude and beliefs of billions of people without their knowing that they are being manipulated. You can’t see it, its subliminal. That’s really where the problem lies, I don’t think regulation is ever going to help us with that. I think we need monitoring systems. In fact, no matter what happens with regulation and law, these monitoring systems must exist.”
Epstein is in the midst of designing a monitoring system to hold tech companies accountable which would “use technology to fight technology,” which is detailed on his website – GoogleResearch.com.
“I proposed another solution which I am proud to say has nothing to do with regulation or law – specifically to set up large scale monitoring systems so that we can actually keep a very close eye on what these companies are showing people around the world,” he said. “I set up such a system in 2016 and captured data about what people were seeing in search results related to the election in 2016. It worked beautifully. I am now working with business partners and with academics on three continents to scale up that monitoring system – first in the U.S. and then in other countries.”
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