In a series of tweets sent Tuesday, President Donald Trump reasserted the baseless claim that Google displayed bias against conservatives and attempted to interfere in elections.
Trump mentioned Google CEO Sundar Pichai’s recent visit to the Oval Office, claiming that Pichai was “working very hard to explain how much he liked me” and telling the president how he was doing a “great job.”
Trump said Pichai assured him that Google was not working with the Chinese government, did not use its influence to boost Hillary Clinton’s 2016 presidential campaign, and has no plans to “illegally subvert” the 2020 election.
If Pichai smoothed things over, it didn’t last long. Trump’s new anti-Google rant was inspired by former Google engineer Kevin Cernekee, who spoke to Fox Business on Monday night about being fired from the company for his conservative opinions, a claim Google denies. The president tweeted a clip of the appearance.
“It all sounded good until I watched Kevin Cernekee, a Google engineer, say terrible things about what they did in 2016 and that they want to “Make sure that Trump losses [sic] in 2020… All very illegal,” Trump tweeted, adding “We are watching Google very closely!”
Cernekee, a former Google engineer, said in a profile in the Wall Street Journal last week that he was fired for being a conservative in liberal Silicon Valley. Google told the paper he was terminated for improperly downloading company information and misusing the company’s remote-access system.
Update: A Google spokesperson disputed Cernekee's claims in a statement to The Daily Beast.
“The statements made by this disgruntled former employee are absolutely false. We go to great lengths to build our products and enforce our policies in ways that don't take political leanings into account. Distorting results for political purposes would harm our business and go against our mission of providing helpful content to all of our users."
The blameless image Cernekee put forward fell apart quickly when the conservative outlet The Daily Caller published posts the former Googler made on internal forums. The engineer defended a California white supremacist group, the Golden State Skinheads, saying the organization had the moral high ground in a 2016 protest that turned violent, and he asked fellow Google employees to crowdfund an effort to identify a person who punched white nationalist figure Richard Spencer in the face during President Trump’s inauguration.
Google has been under the administration’s microscope in recent weeks over its work building a censored search engine for the Chinese government, a project codenamed Dragonfly.
Facebook board member and investor Peter Thiel has said without evidence that Google had committed treason in its work in China. Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin responded to the claim days later and said he and the president had spoken to Pichai and found no threats to national security. Thiel doubled down on the claim in a New York Times op-ed, saying that no investigation was necessary to confirm his opinion.
Conspiracy theories of bias against conservatives have plagued the tech industry since before Trump’s campaign, but they’ve heated up in recent years. Despite the lack of evidence of any systematic bias against conservatives online, Senator Ted Cruz (R-TX) held a congressional hearing on social media companies’ alleged propensity to silence conservatives on July 18.
Democrats are joining the “free speech” fray as well: Presidential candidate Tulsi Gabbard sued Google for $50 million last week, alleging the company violated her free speech by cutting her campaign’s ability to buy ads during the most recent Democratic debate. Google said its fraud detection systems flagged her campaign’s behavior but reinstated it soon after.
The White House did not immediately respond to requests for comment.