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When Sundar Pichai talked about 'fear within Google' on Trump's election

A recently leaked hour-long video of a Google TGIF, an all-hands meeting, after the 2016 US Presidential Elections has landed the search giant in hot water with the Trump administration.

twitter-logoBusinessToday.In | September 14, 2018 | Updated 13:21 IST
When Sundar Pichai talked about 'fear within Google' on Trump's election

A recently leaked hour-long video of a Google TGIF, an all-hands meeting, after the 2016 US Presidential Elections has landed the search giant in hot water with the Trump administration. The video sent anonymously to Breitbart News shows Google's top leadership, including CEO Sundar Pichai, co-founders Larry Page and Sergei Brin and two vice-presidents, expressing their disappointment with the election of Donald Trump as president.

The video could not have made waves at a worse time for the company. Along with other tech giants like Facebook and Twitter, Google has received increasing flak from the conservatives in recent months about their political bias, which allegedly is influencing their products. It is well-known that Silicon Valley, a liberal-leaning part of California, had overwhelmingly backed Trump's Democratic foe, Hillary Clinton in the elections.

And this video is being cited as more proof that Google is trying to undermine Trump and silence his supporters. According to The Washington Post, some White House allies are even sating that it should prompt regulators to investigate the company.

The video starts with Brin, the president of Google parent Alphabet, saying "let's face it, most people here are pretty upset and pretty sad because of the election", after acknowledging that it was not the "most joyous TGIF" the company's had. "Myself, as an immigrant and a refugee, I certainly find this election deeply offensive and I know many of you do, too," he said, adding that it was a "period of great uncertainty" and one had no idea what direction the country would take under the new administration.

When Pichai took the stage next, he started out by saying "It's been an extraordinarily stressful time, I'm sure, for many of you". According to him, there was a "lot of fear within Google", going by the numerous emails he had received from worried employees; however he stressed that the country just had to trust in the democratic process.

The agenda of the TGIF appeared to be assuaging Google employees, especially immigrants, about the company's ideology, especially in light of Trump's pledge to toughen security at the border. In doing so, Google's leaders encouraged their workers to be understanding of "all sides of the political spectrum", as Eileen Naughton, the company's vice president for people operations, put it.

Significantly, she had added, "I do want to be clear that diversity also means diversity of opinion and political persuasion. I have heard from some conservative Googlers in the past few days that they haven't felt comfortable. We need to do better; we need to be tolerant, inclusive."

Comments like this have not found their way in the right-leaning Breitbart reportage - it instead seized on comments from Google's VP for Global Affairs Kent Walker, who spoke broadly about the rise of populist movements globally, fuelled by forces like fear and "xenophobia". Neither did Breitbart detail a moment when Pichai and Page highlighted that Trump could improve US infrastructure or that it could be the end of congressional gridlock.

According to the site, the recording reflected "a determinism to thwart both the Trump agenda and the broader populist movement emerging around the globe".

Moreover, given that the old video resurfaced just a few weeks after Trump accused Google of having "rigged" search results to display negative stories about him - a charge that Google strongly denied - conservatives have reacted strongly against it.

Trump's 2020 campaign manager, Brad Parscale, took to Twitter to voice his protest. "@google needs to explain why this isn't a threat to the Republic. Watch the video. Google believes they can shape your search results and videos to make you "have their values". Open borders. Socialism. Medicare 4 all. Congressional hearings! Investigate," he tweeted on Wednesday.

In a similar vein, the US president's son Donald Trump Jr tweeted "They control 91% of all search and they get to decide what everyone sees. If this isn't a Monopoly I don't know what is".

Earlier this week, even before the video made headlines, U.S. House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy had reportedly accused Google of a "silent donation" to a left-wing group to stop Trump, and for allegedly working with China and Russia to censor the internet. He even threatened to drag Google to Capitol Hill to answer for its political leanings saying "An invite will be on its way".

According to the newspaper, given that the lawmaker had previously helped orchestrate an entire congressional hearing focused on allegations of conservative bias at Twitter, chances are that Google's executives could soon be forced to appear in front of their Republican critics.

Meanwhile, Riva Sciuto, a spokeswoman for Google, has defended Google's meeting saying that the executives had expressed their "personal views".

"For over 20 years, everyone at Google has been able to freely express their opinions at these meetings," she said in a statement. "Nothing was said at that meeting, or any other meeting, to suggest that any political bias ever influences the way we build or operate our products. To the contrary, our products are built for everyone, and we design them with extraordinary care to be a trustworthy source of information for everyone, without regard to political viewpoint."

Interestingly, Pichai was pretty candid while speaking about misinformation and how its personalisation algorithms shape peoples' opinions - this at a time most tech companies like Facebook did not immediately take responsibility for playing a role in shaping the election. In the video Pichai says that YouTube plays a big role in the discussions about social media and acknowledged there "seems to be a selection bias" around how people are able to access information.

Edited by Sushmita Choudhury Agarwal

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