Steve King, the best-known and longest-serving current U.S. Representative from Iowa, took center stage at a House Judiciary Committee hearing on Tuesday, during which Google CEO Sundar Pichai faced repeated questions about whether the search engine is prejudiced against conservatives. That Google is deliberately skewing search results to make it easier to find information which undermines conservative beliefs is a popular conspiracy theory among right-wingers.
King’s combination of ignorance and menace made him stand out among the Republicans who grilled Pichai.
In what was destined to be a widely shared moment on social media, King demanded Google’s CEO explain the behavior of an Apple iPhone.
“I have a 7-year-old granddaughter who picked up her phone before the election, and she’s playing a game — the kind of game a kid would play — and on there pops a picture of her grandfather,” King told Pichai. “And I’m not going to say into the record what kind of language was used around that picture of her grandfather, but I’d ask you: how does that show up on a 7-year-old’s iPhone, who’s playing a kid’s game?”
After a moment’s pause, Pichai replied, “Congressman, iPhone is made by a different company, and so, you know, I mean, I don’t know.”
— Aaron Rupar (@atrupar) December 11, 2018
Moving on, King focused on trying to get information from Pichai about the identities of the “1,000 people” who work on Google’s search algorithm and what their political beliefs are. Pichai had already explained that Google doesn’t monitor its employees’ political opinion, but King found that unsatisfactory.
“There’s a very strong conviction on this side of the aisle [i.e., among Republicans] that the algorithms are written with a bias against conservatives,” the western Iowa congressman said. “The people on the other side [i.e. Democrats] don’t agree with that, because, of course, it benefits them. What we don’t know is who are these 1,000 people, and we don’t know what their social media looks like.”
But because Google is headquartered in California, King felt sure its employees must be “supporters of Hillary Clinton.”
“That would be a built-in bias, if I know people from California and know their politics from California, and I think I do,” King said.
Pichai patiently replied that the search result ranking are “essential based on user feedback.”
King, again, was unsatisfied, and returned to his demand that Google divulge personal information about employees “to understand the results of the work they’re doing behind closed doors.”
“I have said, we either need to know who they are and look at their social media, and if that doesn’t solve this problem” then the federal government should take actions against Google, King said.
He said the first punitive step against Google if doesn’t hand over information about its employees, and continues to produce search results conservatives don’t like, would be to amend Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act, to allow lawsuits against Google over search results. If that doesn’t produce results King approves of, he said the Justice Department should bring an anti-trust lawsuit against the company (“a Teddy Roosevelt step,” King called it).
King was elected to his ninth term in November, with the support of Gov. Reynolds, and Iowa’s two senators, Chuck Grassley and Joni Ernst. He was the only one of Iowa’s three Republican House members to win reelection in 2018, despite being rejected by the National Republican Congressional Committee because of his white nationalist beliefs.