Flat White

Why don’t we take the lead tackling big tech’s election meddling?

26 July 2020

5:00 AM

26 July 2020

5:00 AM

Why do we as Australians concern ourselves with American politics? Well, they tend to export many ideas to us. The good, the bad and the ugly.  

In this case, we should be asking ourselves how Google could impact our next federal election and, perhaps, our upcoming state polls if they choose.  

How much damage could Google, Facebook and Twitter do by swinging 2-8% of our voters as they did with the American election?  

Two to 8% of voters may sound small but that equates to 300,000 – 1.2 million votes which could turn that sweeping win from Scott Morrison in 2019 into a career-ending, crushing defeat if well strategized.  

Last week saw the USA and Australia turn against Tik Tok due to long-standing privacy concerns.  

have to admit that I’ve been rather perplexed by the focus on Tik Tok considering that companies like Google, Facebook and twitter have been violating privacy and selling personal data for some time now.  

In fact, in the case of Google, they overtly manipulated its search engine and algorithm to swing votes against then-candidate Donald Trump in 2016 and against Republican Candidates in the 2018 mid-term congressional elections 

Why would Google do that? Well, you might like to know that the parent company of Google, ‘Alphabet Inc.’, was a top financial donor of the Hillary Clinton campaign in 2016. 

Enter Dr Robert Epstein. In July of 2019, Epstein testified before congress on the dangers of ‘Big Tech manipulating anywhere from 2.6 – 10.4 million votes from Donald Trump to Hillary Clinton in the 2016 presidential election.  

Epstein is the senior research psychologist at the American Institute for Behavioural Research and Technology 

Some of the search techniques he warns of from Google, Facebook and Twitter include the “search engine manipulation effect, the search suggestion effect, the answer bot effect and a number of others”. 

“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.”  

Just to put this into perspective for you, in 2016 Hillary Clinton won the popular vote by 3 million votes. However, she lost the electoral college by 80,000 votes in rustbelt states secured by Donald Trump such as Wisconsin, Michigan, and Pennsylvania 

Epstein made the point that he believes that these Big Tech companies were overconfident in 2016 and didn’t go full throttle as it was expected that Hillary Clinton would win.  

In fact, following the election result, leaked footage came out from Google’s Weekly Leadership Meeting expressing their desire to ensure the rise of populism doesn’t turn into “a world war or something catastrophic … and instead is a blip, a hiccup.” As Senior Vice President for Global Affairs and Chief Legal Officer Kent Walker stated, “that’s all the reason why we have to be in the arena”.  

Following the narrow victory by Donald Trump, these companies left little to chance in the November 2018 congressional mid-term elections with a ‘blue wave’ of Democrats retaking the House and some Senate seats. 

Now before anyone starts questioning the validity of Epstein’s research I would remind you that this man is a Hillary Clinton supporter and voter in the 2016 election.  

His research has dire consequences for our democracy. 

There is a glimmer of hope for Australia, though. Some of the strategies that Epstein warns of are more effective in the USA due to their non-compulsory approach to voting. Australia’s compulsory take on voting actually neutralises some methods of manipulation such as the reminder messages to certain voters but not others.  

However, our system doesn’t counter most techniques relating to the pipeline of information especially with search engines and censorship which are psychologically impactful. 

I’m sure we could all agree that no political party should have access to that kind of power.  

We’re in a period of re-evaluation in our politics. It’s the perfect time for the Prime Minister to act.

Tackle this early on before the election, Mr Morrison, and you could make this issue your own, just as you’ve spearheaded the inquiry into the origins of the COVID-19 virus 

Australians love to see Australians take leadership on international issues. These are easy bipartisan wins you can and should act and on these already.  

Got something to add? Join the discussion and comment below.

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