Speaking at the House Judiciary Committee’s hearing on social media censorship earlier today, Rep. Darrell Issa (R-CA) criticized Google for relying on unreliable, potentially biased information from Wikipedia at the top of their search results.
Referencing the incident last month where Google’s automated systems connected the California GOP to “Nazism” due to their reliance on biased, easily-manipulated information from Wikipedia. Google’s systems also at one time displayed an image of a GOP state senator labeled “BIGOT” at the top of their search results for that senator.
“I’m a big supporter of emerging technologies, and I will always defend that things can happen in an emerging technology that are unintended, and over time they get corrected… But when Google was a younger company, it was a blue box reference company, meaning that by definition, what you did was, when you Google search something, what I would end up with was a list of places that I could then click on and go to.”
“In the case of Wikipedia, currently, Google is using Wikipedia … scraping the information, and essentially using it almost as its own content, meaning you’re providing not a link to this site, but you’re in fact putting their information out as your information.”
“Since Wikipedia is an external, fairly broad in many cases, list of people, sometimes with political biases that will deliberately distort or do bad things to a site… how are we to hold you accountable, when instead of being a search source you are in fact scraping the information?”
Rep. Issa went on to suggest that tech companies that display the content of other sites as their own, as opposed to simply hosting or linking to content elsewhere on the web.
“When you absorb the content, aren’t you absorbing the responsibility? And in the case of Wikipedia, clearly you are not scrubbing the content.”
“Shouldn’t we hold you responsible at least to the level of care that newspapers — ever so poorly — are held to?”
Google’s representative admitted that Wikipedia was “vandalized” in the case of the California GOP, acknowledged that Google’s systems failed to catch it in time, and noted that they “apologized” to the California Republican party.
Rep. Issa then asked the representatives if they believed they should be held accountable for content that they “make their own” and “adopt,” and whether they should be held legally liable for such content.
Facebook’s representative said Section 230, which protects the tech giants from legal liability for content hosted on their platforms, is “essential” to their business. Twitter’s representative, Nick Pickles said the approach would put “speech” and “competition” at risk.
Rep. Issa concluded his questioning by noting that “free speech was created and supported by a newspaper system from our founding that lived by different rules.”