Google struggled to prove it does not have a political bias during an antitrust hearing held on Tuesday. The Senate antitrust committee accused the company of being a monopoly, which it uses to silence dissenting voices.
Google representatives were not able to convince Republican senators Josh Hawley of Missouri, Mike Lee of Arizona, and Ted Cruz of Texas that the company is not biased. That was during a hearing where the Subcommittee on Antitrust, Competition Policy, and Consumer Rights summoned Google.
The hearing titled “Stacking the Tech: Has Google Harmed Competition in Online Advertising, as Sen. Lee noted, was not about online bias but antitrust: “the online advertising market and how competition works or should work and how it might not be operating as well as it could in that space.” But according to him, the political bias definitely brings up antitrust concerns.
Google’s President of Global Partnerships and Corporate Development, Don Harrison, was in a losing battle with the senators as he struggled to convincingly answer their questions on how Google quashes competitors and uses its “monopoly” status to silence conservatives.
The senators referenced Google banning the conservative news outlet The Federalist from running ads through Google’s AdSense platform.
Harrison claimed that The Federalist’s comments section allowed commentary that is against Google’s policy.
“The Federalist had comment boards that had commentary in it, some of which our systems made clear was racist commentary, and we’ve been clear in our policies that our ads can’t show up next to that kind of commentary,” Harrison said.
Sen. Hawley countered by pointing out that the comments were “third-party content, and they [they being The Federalist] just didn’t moderate it at all, which under Section 230 they are perfectly entitled to do, but you’re saying now that in order to have access to your, arguably, monopoly ad platform, they have to engage in content moderation and they have to do it, apparently, according to your standards.”
Google gave The Federalist three bad options; either they stop showing ads, moderate the comments, or put the comments section behind a wall so that ads would not show against “problematic” content.
Sen. Cruz pointed out that the fact that Google can confidently demand that a news outlet should moderate the comments or get banned from advertising is proof of monopoly power. One of those choices means The Federalist has to find another platform for running ads, while the other two mean moderating commentary, which they are not required to do by law.
“If Google isn’t dominant, why does it have the power to demand a media publisher it disagrees with, it take down the comments site, and why does it expect media obedience?” Cruz explained.
The Senate hearing was a taste of what’s coming Google’s way as Attorney General William Barr’s antitrust case against Google is almost ready.