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13 July 2017

The Times: Google Pays Academics Millions For Support

Google has been accused of seeking to “manipulate public and academic discourse in favour of its own agenda and commercial interests” by funding academic research papers, many of which failed to disclose Google as a funding source, The Times reported today.

US watchdog the Campaign for Accountability identified 329 pieces of research by academics at British and American universities funded directly or indirectly by Google since 2005 in key public policy areas where regulatory changes could cost the company a fortune in fines and lost earnings, The Times reported.

The authors did not disclose Google’s funding in two thirds of cases, the research found, and emails suggest that some researchers shared papers with Google before publication, seeking suggestions for changes.

In a leader today, The Times commented: “Google has been involved in the financing of hundreds of academic articles that defend the company against criticism. Some involved British academics and universities. This should not have happened. The internet search giant has improperly tried to skew the research process and public debate. Through carelessness or avarice, academics have made themselves complicit.

“Researchers should not have taken money on Google’s terms. They should also have disclosed their sources of funding. Any universities whose employees are implicated should now investigate the basis on which they conducted their research. Academics are there to ask probing questions but they should be ready to answer them, too.”

Separately this week, MPs highlighted  the abuse on social media faced by MPs and suffered by candidates during the election period.  

In a Westminister Hall debate yesterday, MPs were quick to make clear that the debate was not about robust political debate in the press and cautioned that any measures taken to stop the abuse on social media should not impinge upon the freedom of the press.

Shadow Home Secretary Diane Abbott MP, Labour, said: "We have to be clear that we are talking not about robust debate, ​however robust it is, but about mindless abuse. In my case, the mindless abuse has been characteristically racist and sexist. I have had death threats, and people tweeting that I should be hanged. 

"It is certainly true that the online abuse that I and others experience has got worse in recent years, and that it gets worse at election time, but I do not put it down to a particular election. I think the rise in the use of online media has turbocharged abuse.

"It is not once a week or during an election; it is every day. My staff switch on the computer and go on to Facebook and Twitter, and they see this stuff."

David Jones MP, Conservative, said: "Frankly, if ever there were a misnomer, 'social media' is it; it is deeply antisocial media."

MPs distinguished between abuse on social media and robust political debate in the press which holds politicians to account, pointing towards the current regulatory system which offers a clear route of redress without impinging on a free press.  

Simon Hart MP, Conservative, said: "Of course, print media is governed by a rather different and more visible level of regulation. There is a ​line between robust challenge, the cut and thrust of politics and the sort of stuff that we know we are letting ourselves in for when we take on this job—some papers would argue that they are on the right side of that line—which is a mile away from the stuff we are talking about.

"People being made to feel a little shamefaced or guilty because they have cocked up—if I can use that expression—their particular contribution to politics is one thing. If there is an example of a newspaper inciting racial hatred, anti-Semitism and that sort of thing, the regulators ought to be looking at that, without impinging on the free press."

Nusrat Ghani MP, Conservative, said: "I am a little concerned that this debate might blur the lines between criticism of the performance of a Member of Parliament or a stance they take and actual abuse. My concern is that the abuse particularly stops women entering politics.

"I will give the example of a candidate who stood in Ealing and was unfortunately not elected. Candidates have to declare their addresses when they stand for Parliament. She said that she started becoming nervous during the election campaign when opponents started standing outside her door, spitting in her face and following her. That is the threatening behaviour that she wants to highlight.

"This is not about criticism in the press."