Epstein explained that Google has long been experimenting with different ways by which it can manipulate search results, even before the concept of fake news became popular during the last election.
"Google has tried many ways to control those efforts and they’ve been really moving away from the idea of just looking at the popularity of sites and moving into the direction of actually trying to figure out what’s valid and what isn’t, what’s true and what isn’t," he said. "And that’s a very different kind of task than simply looking at popularity or counting links to a website."
He added, "So they’ve been getting into the game of judging truth, and in my opinion that’s extremely dangerous."
While systematically filtering false information seems like a positive thing on its face, Epstein explained that the issue lies in for-profit entities determining what is true and what isn’t.
"What’s happening now, very rapidly, is that some of the big tech companies, Google being the leader, are saying 'we’re going to figure this out.' And the crazy part of that is, they’re not saying they’re assembling a team of analysts and journalists and Nobel Prize winners to figure this out, no. What they’re saying is 'we’ve developed an algorithm that’s going to figure it out.'"
Loud and Clear host Brian Becker asked, "What are some of the markers that the algorithms would look for? What are the discerning pieces to the fake news/real news truth versus non-truth puzzle?"
Epstein says this is unclear, because "We’re not dealing with some open source, public kind of enterprise, we’re dealing with a rapacious private corporation that is highly secretive. So we can only guess what their criteria will be because they’re not going to announce them in any detail. So that makes this even worse."
Becker recalled the United Nations listing internet access as a fundamental human right, on par with water, shelter and food, commenting that "If this internet is privately controlled by these giant mega-corporations that are driven fundamentally by profits, and they can be the determiners without account, it seems to be a fundamental negation of any semblance of democracy."
Epstein agreed, and said that internet pioneers envisioned a level playing field where people would be able to explore and express themselves without boundaries, but the exact opposite has happened.
He said, "What has happened is the internet is not a free-for-all where everyone has access and equal say, in fact it is an environment dominated overwhelmingly by one major company with a couple of other big companies having some say as well, but that is not what it was supposed to be and this move now by Google and to some extent Facebook, to decide what’s real news and what isn’t, that is really scary. That is making this corporate dominance even more frightening and even more dangerous."