Between them, Google and Facebook are effectively a duopoly with unprecedented influence over American lives and minds. The federal government is, meanwhile, a heavy user of Google products, and has shown little interest in oversight. We’ve only begun to take notice of the way the state is merging with the most powerful corporations. Psychologist and Google critic Robert Epstein found that, by sheer coincidence, the day after he wrote an article called “Could Google Tilt a Close Election?” he couldn’t access the Internet through any browser. An especially chilling passage shows Epstein explaining how his research shows that manipulation of search algorithms to favor a given candidate could easily shift people’s voting intentions, with few noticing the bias. He suspects such manipulation in searches for Hillary Clinton during the 2016 campaign, which Google has denied.
“If they have this kind of power then democracy is an illusion,” says Epstein (who describes himself as apolitical but allows that he thought Clinton was a more qualified presidential candidate than Donald Trump). “There have to be in place numerous safeguards to make sure not only that they don’t exercise these powers but that they can’t exercise these powers.” Adds Schweizer, “These tech giants have a level of control and an ability to manipulate us that Stalin, Mao, Hitler, and Mussolini could only have dreamed of.”