I wish that congressional hearingsm in which befuddled leaders pummeled tech company representatives with their most Ask.com-level questions about how the internet works and why it is mean to them, could be weekly occurrences. There is something so beautiful and so pure about watching a pompous senator or congressperson angrily hold up their phone and ask a very smart technocrat how this rich Nigerian prince got their email address. Yesterday, at a House Judiciary Committee hearing on Google, the American public was once again treated to the spectacle of elected leaders giving voice to their most valued constituents: anonymous people in the comments section who have no idea what's going on.
Google CEO Sundar Pichai testified in front of the committee on issues pertaining to data collection and search filtering, but as befits a group of people who got an iPhone for their birthday two years ago but never got around to setting it up, many of the questions toggled delightfully between total incomprehension and conspiracy theories. And I can't get enough.
Iowa's Steve King, no stranger to conspiracy theories and a huge fan of promoting white nationalist ideology, asked Pichai why, when his 7-year-old granddaughter was playing a game on her iPhone, a photo of King popped up with unkind (but probably accurate) words about him on it. The levels of WTF in this query are so deep and so layered, it should be studied by archeologists.
- Aaron Rupar (@atrupar) December 11, 2018
Pichai diplomatically replied that Google doesn't make the iPhone. This is a better reply than the one I would have given which would have been "Wow, I don't know what you're talking about. Do you think racism has pickled your brain? Get some help. Next!"
The vague questions in the hearing followed a pattern that was established in previous congressional hearings with other tech companies like Facebook. It seems that some politicians not only do no understand technology but think that it is actively being mean to them in ways that they cannot comprehend or describe but they're sure are there. Memorably, outgoing Senator Orrin Hatch (bai!) cryptically interrogated Mark Zuckerberg about Facebook being free, suggesting that there had to be dirty deeds propping the service up. Zuckerberg stared at Hatch quizzically and then replied, "We run ads." Call the police; I'm being marketed to.
Senator Kennedy of Alabama grilled Zuckerberg about why Facebook wouldn't let him delete his data, something Facebook already lets you do. Zuckerberg was like, "Delete your account, bish. IDGAF!" I'm paraphrasing.
At yesterday's hearing, members of Congress grilled Pichai on the very basics of how Google works like "Does Google know where I am? How do I turn off my search history? Can you tell me where I left my keys?" But perhaps the most perfect peculiar political question came yesterday from Rep. Zoe Lofgren, a Democrat from California. She asked Pichai, "Right now, if you Google the word 'idiot' under images, a picture of Donald Trump comes up. I just did that. How did that happen? How does search work so that that would occur?"
At hearing discussing political bias accusations, Rep. Zoe Lofgren (D-CA) asks Google CEO Sundar Pichai to explain how a picture of Donald Trump comes up when looking up the term "idiot" under images and how search results work https://t.co/UnnwgPQFqO pic.twitter.com/oqRmMeWzW5
- CBS News (@CBSNews) December 11, 2018
First of all, this question is such a trainwreck, I am not sure if it's genuine or the most exquisite shade ever spoken into the public record. I have been dreaming for years of getting on national television and saying "The top search result for idiot is Donald Trump, ya burnt!" And Rep. Lofgren just up and did it! What a world!
Second of all, oh my God. That's it. Just wow.
Third of all, bless Pichai for keeping a straight face and responding with a careful explanation of searches. He's a better man than I. Were I to respond to that question, I'd answer, "Why does Trump's face come up when you search idiot? Well, it's very complex algorithm that, put in lay terms, means 'When you do clownery, the clown jumps out.'"
There really is no more beautiful shade than search engine shade. It's like getting read for filth by the answer board on Family Feud but on a global level. "Survey says: ya basic."
Image searches for the word idiot spiked yesterday and the glut of articles about the question only helped reinforce the algorithmic shade. (You're welcome.) Congratulations are in order, however, to Elif Batuman, whose phenomenal book The Idiot, a Pulitzer Prize finalist, also pops up near the top of the sea of Trump faces, a welcome respite from the horror.
This is another dream of mine: I want to get on television, shade Trump, and then tell everyone to read a very good book. I'm like a rude Oprah.
After yesterday's hearing, I'm going to need at least one technological Q&A&WTF per week. I do not know why so many of our elected leaders are confused about how Al Gore's internet works, but I am certainly enjoying watching them try to figure it out on live television with limited success. Please, if you're a confused senator or congressperson, email me directly with everything you Google and any questions you have about it. You will have my undivided attention.
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