Trump vs Google: Search Me

Trump vs Google: Search Me

Here at Signal, we don’t usually pounce on presidential tweets – most of the time they’re aimed at a domestic US audience, and there just isn’t that much geopolitically to read into them. But there are exceptions, like Tuesday’s complaints from President Trump about Google.


What happened: On Tuesday morning, President Trump blasted Google on Twitter, claiming that 96 percent of the search results that pop up when Googling for “Trump News” were “from National Left-Wing Media.” The president, who may have gotten the stat from a segment that aired on Fox News the night before, accused the search company and unspecified others of “suppressing voices of conservatives and hiding information and news that is good” and promised he would address the situation. Economic adviser Larry Kudlow later stated that the administration was “taking a look” at regulating Google. Google shot back with a statement insisting that politics do not factor into its search algorithms. On Tuesday afternoon, Trump expanded his criticism to include Twitter and Facebook, saying these companies were “treading on very, very troubled territory and they have to be careful.”

Why it’s important: It may be tempting to dismiss the president’s latest broadside against the tech sector. Remember when Trump accused Amazonof ripping off the Postal Service? There were a few splenetic tweets, a review was ordered, and then nothing happened. But social media bias is an issue that resonates more intensely with Trump’s base: a Pew Research poll from June found that more than half of Republican voters thought it was “very likely” that social media platforms intentionally censor political viewpoints, while 70 percent of all voters think it’s at least somewhat likely. It’s also a priority issue among some Republicans in Congress, including House majority leader Kevin McCarthy, who say that powerful Silicon Valley tech companies treat conservative voices unfairly. Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey and other social media execs are due to testify at a House hearing on the issue next week. With some Democrats also eager to rein in the power of the tech giants, albeit for different reasons, there’s at least some risk that the president’s complaints turn into action.

What could Trump do? Former Trump adviser Steve Bannon has suggested that Google and Facebook should be regulated like public utilities, a move that could subject digital platforms to extra oversight over how they serve up their content. Think of the now-abolished pre-cable TV “fairness doctrine” that required broadcasters to air differing views on important public issues. But regulating search engines like that would take an act of Congress, and the Supreme Court would probably have something to say on the matter. The administration could also push regulators take a harder look at Google for antitrust violations: Google and its YouTube video subsidiary account for around 90 percent of all web searches in the US. If the government can find leverage, Google might be forced to make concessions that make it easier for rival search engines to gain an audience. But that would only obliquely address the issue that Trump is complaining about.

Next week’s congressional hearings on social media bias, which will feature executives from Twitter, Google, and Facebook, will give an indication of how likely congressional Republicans are to take up Trump’s cause. He’ll probably face an uphill battle. But in a world where most people now depend on search engines and social media to keep themselves informed, even small changes to the way information is served up by the world’s dominant search engine can have big effects on global politics. This is an issue we’ll be watching closely.

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Ian Bremmer shares his insights on global politics this week with a look at the deteriorating human rights situation in Belarus, Delta variant woes, and Lebanon one year after the Beirut blast.

An Olympian refuses to return home to Belarus and an anti-Lukashenko activist has been found dead in Ukraine. What's going on?

Yeah. That anti-Lukashenko activist was found hanged in a park in Kiev. Once again, not exactly likely a suicide. These anti-Lukashenko activists have a way of turning up injured or dead. It's a horrible regime. Their friends are limited largely to the Russians. That's about it. The economic pressure is growing from Europe, from the United States, very coordinated. But the problem is a very hard to do much to Lukashenko when he has not only support of his military, but also the support of most of the workers in the country who aren't prepared to strike because they want to ensure they still have jobs. I expect this is going to continue, but human rights abuses are stacking up. It is nice to see that the Americans and the Europeans are coordinating policy as well as they have been.

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It's been 365 days since twin blasts at a Beirut port decimated Lebanon's capital. More than 200 people were killed and some 7,000 were injured, yet accountability has been scarce. There is ample evidence that multiple Lebanese officials knew that ammonium nitrate was being improperly stored at the port. Four high-ranking politicians, including former PM Hassan Diab, have been charged by a Lebanese judge, but they all refuse to cooperate with the ongoing investigation.

Since then, Lebanon's already-dire economic and financial crises have only intensified. The Lebanese pound, the national currency, has plummeted, losing 90 percent of its value since 2019, when the country's economic crisis erupted. And more than 50 percent of the population is now living below the poverty line.

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The Biden administration is finally devoting more attention to Southeast Asia. Last week US Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin traveled to Singapore, Vietnam, and the Philippines, marking the first regional visit by a Biden cabinet official. A trip by Vice President Kamala Harris is already in the works as well, and this week Secretary of State Tony Blinken will meet (virtually) with ASEAN counterparts.

The flurry of activity comes after earlier concerns that President Joe Biden was neglecting Southeast Asia, the region where US-China rivalry is the most intense. To understand better what Austin's visit meant, and what comes next, Eurasia Group's lead Southeast Asia analyst Peter Mumford spoke to us from Singapore.

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Raisi won't have it easy: The newly "elected" president of Iran, Ibrahim Raisi, was officially endorsed by Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei on Tuesday. In his inaugural address, the 60-year-old hardliner pledged to get US sanctions removed and to respond to rising socioeconomic grievances within Iran, but he warned that he wouldn't lash Iran's prosperity or survival to "the will of foreigners." In Iran, the president's role focuses mainly on domestic policy, but with the economy reeling one of Raisi's big early challenges will be to continue complicated talks with the Biden administration to renegotiate the 2015 nuclear deal, which would lead to the US lifting some of the harshest sanctions. Both sides say they want a new deal, and have gone through half a dozen rounds of negotiations already, but they remain at odds over who should make what concessions first. Raisi also pledged to restore Iranians' flagging trust in their government and to improve the economic situation, but in ways that are in line with "revolutionary principles." He'll have his hands full with that. And don't forget that the likely imminent (re)takeover of neighboring Afghanistan by the Taliban — whom Tehran don't like at all — will also occur on Raisi's watch. Good luck, Mr. President, you'll need it.

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158: To boost vaccination rates, New York City will soon require proof of COVID vaccination or a negative test to enter gyms and restaurants, as daily new infections in the Big Apple have jumped 158 percent over the past two weeks due to the more contagious delta variant. New York is the first major US city to take this step, following similar schemes already in place in France and Italy.

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