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President Donald Trump claimed on Twitter that Google "manipulated" votes in the 2016 election that would have given him an even greater lead over his opponent and that the company "should be sued."
Trump's tweet appears to refer to documents leaked to conservative group Project Veritas, but the documents do not appear to contain any outright allegation of vote manipulation or attempts to bias the election. Zachary Vorhies, who identifies himself online as a former senior software engineer at Google, recently went public with his allegations in a Project Veritas video after initially leaking documents to the group anonymously that purported to show bias in how Google displays search results.
The leak gives ammunition to conservative lawmakers like Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, who have already accused tech companies including Google of suppressing conservative voices through biased algorithms.
Vorhies told Project Veritas he collected the documents "because I saw something dark and nefarious going on with the company and I realized that there were going to not only tamper with the elections, but use that tampering with the elections to essentially overthrow the United States."
The documents published by Project Veritas appear to include internal discussions and lists related to how Google determines whether news sources are credible or contain hate speech and how to treat them. It also includes a guick guide to something called "the twiddler framework," which appears to be a technology for making "ranking recommendations" on search queries. Google declined to respond to a query about the material Vorhies shared with Project Veritas.
Trump's tweet also claimed Google manipulated 2.6 million votes for his Democratic opponent Hillary Clinton in the 2016 election, likely referencing a number derived by Robert Epstein. The psychology researcher, who works for the American Institute for Behavioral Research and Technology, testified before the Senate Judiciary Committee in June that "biased search results generated by Google's search algorithm likely impacted undecided voters in a way that gave at least 2.6 million votes to Hillary Clinton (whom I supported)," according to prepared remarks. The number was featured on a Fox Business segment on Monday morning.
Clinton later responded to Trump's tweet by criticizing Epstein's research:
About Epstein's claims, a Google spokesperson said, "This researcher's inaccurate claim has been debunked since it was made in 2016. As we stated then, we have never re-ranked or altered search results to manipulate political sentiment. Our goal is to always provide people with access to high quality, relevant information for their queries, without regard to political viewpoint."
After seeing the Veritas report, Epstein told conservative news outlet Breitbart that the leaked documents give credence to his research. Epstein said the documents show Google executives have been "perjuring themselves before Congress," because they have denied the use of blacklists and reranking of search results.
"They actually do reranking of search results to suit their needs, political and otherwise. It's called the 'Twiddler' system," Epstein told Breitbart. "One of the documents is called the 'Twiddler Quickstart Guide,' and it explains how various teams have access to very specialized software that allows them to change how certain kinds of content get ranked in search results … They literally rerank search results to meet their ever-changing needs, and some of those needs are political needs."