In the days following the 2016 presidential election, Google executives expressed shock and dismay over the election of Donald Trump but urged resect for the democratic process in an internal video leaked to the right-wing news site Breitbart.
The video of all-hands meeting, held on Nov. 10, is already stirring controversy on social media, as it feeds into Trump’s charges of anti-conservative bias on the part of the Silicon Valley search giant. Google has issued a statement saying that nothing in the hour-long discussion suggests political views influence product design.
“Let’s face it, most people here are pretty upset and pretty sad because of the election,” said Google Co-Founder Sergey Brin said at the outset of the meeting, later adding that, “Myself, as an immigrant and a refugee, I certainly find this election deeply offensive and I know many of you do, too. And I think it’s a very stressful time and it conflicts with many of our values.”
A number of Google executives can be heard speaking emotionally about the election’s outcome, with Brin talking about the election as a sign that “so many people” don’t share the company’s values. Chief Legal Affairs Officer Kent Walker talked about the rising tide of nationalism and populism in the U.S. and around the world, sparked by globalization and immigration, and how economic insecurity is stoking xenophobia and hatred. The head of Google’s people operations, Eileen Naughton, urged tolerance, saying some conservative employees confided they were uncomfortable expressing their political views.
The video surfaced at a time when Google faces heightened scrutiny in Washington, D.C., and in Europe. U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions is exploring a potential investigation of Google and the major social media companies for potential violations of consumer-protection or antitrust laws. He’ll be briefed on Sept. 25 by Republican state attorneys general, who are already examining the firms’ business practices. Meanwhile, European authorities fined Google a record $5.1 billion for abusing its power in the mobile phone market and ordered it to alter its business practices.
Trump began charging Google with partisan bias this summer, claiming its search results were “rigged” to show negative stories while suppressing voices and conservatives and “hiding” information that cast his administration in a favorable light.
Google said the all-hands session allowed employees to express their views after a long and divisive election season.
“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,” the company said in a statement. ‘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.”
Trump’s 2020 campaign manager, Brad Parscale, quickly jumped on the leaked video as primary evidence of Trump’s claims. He wrote an op-ed piece for USA Today, claiming that the internet companies’ pervasive command of the internet, and control over the information people see, is “a direct threat to a free society,” and added that Google is the “worst offender.”
Right-wing media personality Mike Cernovich described the scene as a funeral.