A hard-hitting new documentary examines the way in which sites like Google and Facebook can influence people’s thoughts through their control of private information.
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Titled “The Creepy Line,” the film takes its name from a remark former Google CEO Eric Schmidt made years ago about concerns some had regarding his company’s handling of private information.
“There’s what I call the ‘creepy line,’ and the Google policy about a lot of these things is to get right up to the creepy line but not cross it,” Schmidt said at the time.
The documentary features interviews ranging from conservative Canadian professor Jordan Peterson to researcher Robert Epstein, who supported Hillary Clinton’s presidential campaign.
“The Creepy Line” had two premieres last month, one in New York City on Sept. 17 and then in Washington, D.C. on Sept. 19.
It’s scheduled for release later this month in select theaters, as well as through iTunes, Amazon, and special screening kits for those looking to host their own viewings.
M.A. Taylor, director of “The Creepy Line,” who also helped with other parts of the production, talked with The Christian Post on Tuesday. Below are excerpts from that interview.
CP: Why did you decide to help make this documentary?
Taylor: I’m a huge technology fan. I’ve followed technology my whole life. I love technology. I love opening a computer up and getting into the motherboard.
The rise of Facebook and Google has been something I’ve kept my eye on for years. And I think they did a lot of good things. I think Google did a lot of good things, disseminating information. Facebook did some amazing things connecting people. But I think, in addition, we’ve come to a point now where Google and Facebook have been discovered to do some very naughty things as well.
Especially, the EU has found a number of things. Whether it’s spying on our kids, whether it’s reading our emails, whether it’s scooping up all of our private information, whether it’s selling it to governments and/or law enforcement. And the thing is, these companies were always caught.
I think that with the level of intrusion they have in our daily life, whether its communication, education, transportation, we really need to sit down and say, ‘Hey, look, what’s the cost of a free email address? What’s the cost of using Google maps?’ And I don’t really think the cost is worth it for the average consumer and the average citizen.
CP: Some have argued that there should be increased regulation of sites like Google and Facebook. Do you agree with that conclusion?
Taylor: The film doesn’t particularly propose a specific answer.
Everybody in the film has a different answer. Epstein wants a public utility. Some people want regulation.
My personal opinion is this: is that we have to proceed with extreme caution because we don’t actually know the ramifications of any of these solutions yet. The thing is, we haven’t had this conversation in this country. They’ve had it in Europe and what we’re seeing in Europe, the EU has taken some very harsh positions on Google and Facebook, and some of the regulations they implemented will be very damaging. And so if we are going to use regulatory, or we’re going to use some other thing, we’re going to have to really figure out.
These guys are integrated into our everyday life. So if you come along and break up a Google, what does that mean for all the platforms that link all of our communications together? And so we don’t actually know what the consequences will be based on these kinds of things that we want to do.
The other thing is that tech moves infinitely faster than government. And you may regulate today, but they can change a number of things that then move outside of the regulations.
This isn’t a Standard Oil. Or a Microsoft, even. This is a company where we are the actual product. I would say that we don’t know, but we need to start evaluating and this film is really the beginning of that conversation.
There are a lot of people with a lot of solutions and we’re going to have to sit down and look at them all very carefully, proceed very carefully.
CP: Have your online habits changed any since you helped make this film?
Taylor: I think that I have always been cautious of Google and Facebook anyway. I’ve never been a big social media person, to start with.
I am on the tail end of Generation X, so we have a slightly different way of using these platforms than say millennials. So I was already cautious of these platforms. I had a Gmail, but I never really used it.
I have a Facebook but it was primarily for family members. But I did delete a couple apps on my phone. The Facebook App, the Messenger App.
CP: There was some talk in the film about some of the censorship of conservative views by Google and Facebook. Do you see the reported incidents of alleged censorship of pro-life groups, the Activist Mommy, and Prager University by social media as further evidence of this politically biased censorship?
Taylor: Absolutely. I always try to not prescribe motives to people, but, I mean, there is a certain extent where there are certain people who are getting censored. And here’s the thing, we don’t even know who is getting censored, because the way the censorship works with these guys, is that you don’t know.
For everybody you know, for every PragerU, there’s a whole lot of people who are demonetized or who are just completely wiped out. And then it extends to things like businesses. If Google decides to move you to Page 2 of the search engine, when you search for something, you might as well just be gone as a business.
Whereas they might be targeting people for political bias, for example Jordan Peterson or people who support pro-life activism or anything like that, but they could also be targeting a business that has those kinds of ideas and you would never know. So that’s what’s really scary for the average citizen.
So imagine that you are, that you have a company, an automotive company and you put Bible verses on your pamphlets, and somebody at Google doesn’t like that, your automotive business gets moved to Page 2. You’re effectively censored. And you’re censored, but you don’t know it. You don’t know it because you’re still there, but you’re not really there because only 10–15 percent of people go to Page 2. If they move you to Page 3, well, you’re gone.
The big problem is we don’t really know how they decide these things or what their worldview is, but we do know that their worldview tends to lean in a certain way, at least by how people donate.
We do think that there is a certain political leaning in San Francisco itself and Silicon Valley itself has been very open with how they lean politically, especially toward people of specific religions or specific political leanings.