SAN FRANCISCO — In the days following the 2016 presidential election, Google executives expressed dismay at Donald Trump's victory while urging employees to respect the democratic process and be tolerant of divergent political opinions within the company, according to a video leaked to right-wing news site Breitbart.
The video could add new fuel to charges leveled by Trump and some on the political right that Google is biased against conservatives. Google says it doesn’t rank search results to manipulate political sentiment.
"Most people here are pretty upset and pretty sad because of the election," Google co-founder Sergey Brin says as the all-hands meeting begins. "Myself, as an immigrant and a refugee, I certainly find this election deeply offensive and I know many of you do, too. And I think it's a very stressful time and it conflicts with many of our values."
The hour-long video, which offered a rare window into weekly all-hands meetings at the Silicon Valley Internet giant, comes as Google's political fortunes in Washington have dramatically shifted. It now faces tougher scrutiny of its business practices and new threats of regulation. And it's being stalked by allegations of partisan bias which have intensified in recent weeks. Digital experts have shot down assertions by Trump that Google has rigged search results to promote negative news about his presidency.
In a statement, Google said employees and executives in the all-hands meeting were expressing their personal views after a "long and divisive election season."
"For over 20 years, everyone at Google has been able to freely express their opinions at these meetings. Nothing was said at that meeting, or any other meeting, to suggest that any political bias ever influences the way we build or operate our products," the company said in a statement. 'To the contrary, our products are built for everyone, and we design them with extraordinary care to be a trustworthy source of information for everyone, without regard to political viewpoint."
The Washington Post reported Tuesday that Arizona's Republican attorney general Mark Brnovich is investigating the Internet giant's handling of consumer data. Attorney General Jeff Sessions is considering an investigation into major tech companies including Google.
On Capitol Hill, Republican House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy indicated that Google would be asked to testify. Congressional lawmakers slammed the company for failing to send a top executive to testify at a hearing alongside Facebook and Twitter last week. The Senate Intelligence Committee left an open chair to underscore Google's absence. And Sen. Orrin G. Hatch, R-Utah, has called for the federal government to reopen its antitrust probe of Google, which was closed in 2013.
On Tuesday, Trump campaign manager Brad Parscale published an op-ed in USA TODAY alleging Google and other major tech companies filter, suppress and directly attack conservatives. After Breitbart published the Google video, Parscale tweeted: "Google needs to explain why this isn't a threat to the republic."
Trump's son Donald Trump Jr. tweeted: "They control 91% of all search and they get to decide what everyone sees. If this isn’t a Monopoly I don’t know what is."
Breitbart reported that executive comments during the Google all-hands meeting showed "an atmosphere of panic and dismay amongst the tech giant’s leadership, coupled with a determination to thwart both the Trump agenda and the broader populist movement emerging around the globe."
Many of the comments were more nuanced and measured. Google's chief executive Sundar Pichai said Google was already “thoughtfully engaging” with Trump’s transition team. Eileen Naughton, Google's chief people officer, encouraged employees to respect conservative colleagues.
"I do want to be clear that diversity also means diversity of opinion and political persuasion," Naughton told Google employees. "I have heard from some conservative Googlers in the past few days that they haven’t felt comfortable. We need to do better."