Home > Uncategorized > @Deadline Hollywood: Google “Forgets” Film Maker Dinesh D’Souza in Search Results–Can Kadoodle Be Far Behind?

@Deadline Hollywood: Google “Forgets” Film Maker Dinesh D’Souza in Search Results–Can Kadoodle Be Far Behind?

July 25, 2014

I’ve always believed that you don’t have to have had a bad guy point a .50 cal at your tummy from a guard tower on the wrong side of the demarcation line between the old East and West Germanys to understand free expression.  But I also believe that it doesn’t hurt your comprehension, either.

And if you support artist rights and the freedom to express yourself, it’s a hollow message if you don’t support the rights of all artists, even the ones you disagree with.  Maybe especially the ones you disagree with politically.

MTP readers will know that at the heart of Google’s antitrust investigation in Europe is Google’s practice of disappearing  certain links and promoting their own competing links.  It’s easy to point out the evils of this practice when you’re talking about commercial products.  But what Google is doing is suppressing speech about ideas they don’t like (competitors) in favor of ideas they do like (their own products).

But what if you were talking about political ideas instead of commercial ideas?  Because at the end, what Google is accused of doing in Europe (and which they apparently do routinely in the US according to then-Googler Marissa Meyer) is promoting their own Google-approved message over a competitor’s.  That could just as easily be a political candidate backed by Google or a political idea that Google did not back.

This comes up in the case of film makers with unpopular ideas and it also comes up with actual political campaigns.  Google does it with “down linking” or artificially adjusting their algorithm to return altered search results.  The problem is that if you don’t watch carefully for it and if you don’t make a stink about it when it happens, the public will never know Google is disappearing one movie they don’t like, a book that threatens Google or an idea that they support, or disappearing a political campaign or news about a political candidate they oppose.

Dinesh D’Souza’s “America”

You may never have heard of Dinesh D’Souza.  In a nutshell, he is a man of the Right.  He is an immigrant to America from India, an academic and conservative activist.  If you have attended university after 1972 or so, you know that being both a conservative activist and an academic is not exactly a ticket to success for either vocation.  He’s scrappy, but in a very intellectually mellow Indian sense.  Kind of like if Michael Moore was a Buddhist.

You can draw your own conclusions about his politics, that’s not the point of this post.  D’Souza has written many books, but lately he has started producing and narrating movies based on his books.  The films are released by Lionsgate which is “real” distribution and look to be low cost dramatized documentaries with a political twist that is critical of the party in power.  The current film, “America: Imagine the World Without Her (2014)” has been out less than a month and has a US box office gross of $12 million in 1300 screens.  Not bad, but given the limited marketing budget that documentaries get to enjoy, every little bit of publicity is important and the lack of it can tank a film.  (D’Souza’s last movie, 2016: Obama’s America has grossed approximately $33 million at the domestic box office with the same formula, putting it right behind Michael Moore’s Fahrenheit 9/11, the highest grossing political documentary.)

Given what we know about Google’s political aspirations, lobbying influence, cozy relationships with the NSA, building robots for the Marines and other crony capitalist benefits from helping keep the executive branch stay in office, those facts alone would make one suspicious of just how much Google would be willing to help D’Souza succeed with his film that is intellectually critical of not just the Obama administration but also Hillary Clinton.  (Google is also pretty cozy with Secretary Clinton, too, see her Google “Google Fireside Chat” conducted this week by Eric “Uncle Sugar” Schmidt, presumably for the usual fee.)

According to Deadline Hollywood:

Dinesh D’Souza and the team behind the recently released documentary America: Imagine The World Without Her still want to know why Google won’t display the show times for their movie. Earlier this week, lawyers for the conservative author/filmmaker sent a second letter to the tech giant’s chief legal officer David Drummond trying to get the situation resolved, I’ve learned. The July 16 letter from Sheppard, Mullin attorney Kelly Crabb requested “that Google correctly display information for America: Imagine The World Without Her in the same way it displays information for other movies currently in theaters”….You’d think that would be a simple enough request for one of the world’s top search engines. But in this case, you’d be wrong. “I don’t know what the point of a search engine is if people can’t access the information they’re looking for,” a frustrated D’Souza told me today.

Ah, well.  MTP readers understand exactly what is going on, right?  Do we think that David Drummond is going to be helpful to any film maker?  Let’s check the Google Transparency Report:

google takedowns

 

We know what Google thinks of creators, we’re just a bunch of whiny “Hollywood” people who expect Google not to sell ads for pirate sites, human trafficking and counterfeit pharmaceuticals not to mention YouTube videos on how to shoot heroin.  So if David Drummond doesn’t seem to be sufficiently motivated to control the hookers and blow his company profits from (and that indirectly benefit his own bonus and stock options), why in the word would you think that Google would want to help out this particular film maker?  Do you think that Josh Earnest is calling David Drummond to tell him to be sure that the D’Souza movie gets a fair ranking?

This most recent letter to Google comes after the tech company’s previous solution to the problem was to pull down almost all the info about the docu. Before, Google searchers were seeing the poster and title of D’Souza’s previous pic — 2012′s 2016: Obama’s America – when they searched for America. After the filmmakers had their lawyer contact the company last week, there was even less. “Google’s fix …was to remove the times and other details altogether,” notes the 2-page letter, sent Wednesday. “The result is that now a filmgoer interested in America: Imagine The World Without Her must research available links to find information that is readily available for other motion pictures.”

If you support Mr. D’Souza, this will no doubt get you tweaked.  If you don’t, just imagine if this was Michael Moore and a Republican was in the White House–because don’t think for one minute that Google won’t be all over a Republican administration as well if one happens to come along.  They play both sides of the street–why do you think they hired the Republican former Member of Congress Susan Molinari to run their DC lobbying operation?  Is it a conspiracy?  Probably not, but would anyone in any White House lose sleep if a film maker who was critical of their administration had a hard time with a major campaign contributor?

So it may not have been a political conspiracy, but no one will be surprised that I think it was intentional on Google’s part.  And  intent is informed by motive.

Kadoodle

Ever heard of Kadoodle?  Probably not, but it’s a fictional search company created by Professor Robert Epstein of the American Institute for Behavioral Research and Technology.  Professor Epstein conducted a number of tests on the effects on voting behavior of the manipulation of search engine results.

Jeff Bezos’ Washington Post has an informative article on Professor Epstein entitled “Could Google Tilt A Close Election” (you’ll have to read past the ads for “Google Enterprise Search” that are served to the page):

Google’s motto is “Don’t be evil.” But what would it mean for democracy if it was?

That’s the question psychologist Robert Epstein has been asking in a series of experiments testing the impact of a fictitious search engine — he called it “Kadoodle” — that manipulated search rankings, giving an edge to a favored political candidate by pushing up flattering links and pushing down unflattering ones.

Not only could Kadoodle sway the outcome of close elections, he says, it could do so in a way most voters would never notice….“They have a tool far more powerful than an endorsement or a donation to affect the outcome,” Epstein said. “You have a tool for shaping government. . . . It’s a huge effect that’s basically undetectable.”

Epstein’s core finding — that a dominant search engine could alter perceptions of candidates in close elections — has substantial support. Given the wealth of information available about Internet users, a search engine could even tailor results for ­­­certain groups, based on location, age, income level, past searches, Web browsing history or other factors.

The voters least tuned in to other sources of information, such as news reports or campaign advertisements, would be most vulnerable. These are the same people who often end up in the crucial middle of American politics as coveted swing voters.

“Elections are won among low-information voters,” said Eli Pariser, former president of ­MoveOn.org and the author of “The Filter Bubble: What the Internet Is Hiding From You.” “The ability to raise a negative story about a candidate to a voter . . . could be quite powerful.”

In short, Google has a startling capacity to suppress speakers it doesn’t like.  Google will give you a bunch of the dog ate my algorithm excuses about why it’s not their fault, not intentional, etc.  (Right…it might be a whatchamacallit…a crime…if it were.)  The behavior that got them before the European Commission–favoring their own speech over that of others–is in many respects the same behavior that is at issue with Mr. D’Souza’s movie and Professor Epstein’s research.

So you have to ask yourself why would you accept a “trust me” defense from Google any more than you did from Enron?  And some day when Google does it to a film maker whose views you like, remember that it started because you didn’t speak up to defend a film maker whose views you didn’t care for.

We stand for artist rights around here, not just the rights of the artists who we like politically.  And it’s pretty clear that Google thinks of artists as people it can bully and rob blind, then disappear.

UPDATE: Thanks to Mr. D’Souza’s lawyers, Google has corrected the Google algorithm to return proper links for a search for “America movie”.  That little exercise probably cost him in the $10,000 range. Needless to say, not every creator can afford a lawyers letter from a big law firm and not everyone can bring public pressure to bear like Mr. D’Souza.

 

 

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