Nadine Dorries claims tech bosses promote left-wing content with ‘big dials’

Former Cabinet minister Nadine Dorries has made the bizarre claim that Big Tech uses “dials” to alter Google search algorithms to ensure the “content people read online is left-leaning”.

In a column for the Daily Mail, Dorries, who was secretary of state for digital, culture, media and sport between September 2021 and September 2022, wrote about a time she asked why “when you search for news related to politics on Google, it is predominantly left-wing publications that top the list of results?” 

The former Conservative MP said an unnamed person told her to imagine that in Silicon Valley they have “big dials” where tech bosses “can turn them up” and “turn them down at will” in order to prioritise certain types of content. 

“In doing so, the liberals who populate Silicon Valley can control what people see and read, and ultimately can influence what they think,” the person allegedly told her. 

“By feeding you left-wing content when you search, which you then click on, the algorithms learn what you are reading and keep feeding you more of the same, whether you search for it or not.” 

This is not the first time Dorries has made an unusual claim about digital regulation. 

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In a select committee hearing in 2021, during her time as culture secretary, she claimed that Channel 4 was paid for with public money – similar to the BBC’s licence fee – seemingly not realising that, despite being publically owned, the TV station is funded by commercial operations. 

The broadcaster states on its own FAQ page that most of its income comes from advertising revenue. 

Doubling down on the idea that “big dials” control the internet, Dorries relayed the time she had a meeting with UK Google in which she questioned executives why, when she searched her name, she made the “alarming” discovery that the stories which came up about her were negative ones in left-leaning publications. 

“One of them got out his phone and said: ‘Are you sure that’s what happened? It doesn’t happen when I search your name’,” she wrote. 

“He handed me his phone and I was amazed to see he was right. I checked my own phone and it was the same. I felt foolish and apologised.

“But that feeling lasted for only 24 hours. The following day, my team searched my name again and it was back to what we had seen before. Someone obviously had their hand on the Google dial prior to that meeting.” 

In the same article, Dorries, whose Mid-Bedfordshire seat was won by Labour for the first time ever, in last week‘s by election – overturning a Tory majority of 24,664 – went on to claim now deputy prime minister Oliver Dowden told her to kick the Online Safety Bill “into the long grass and leave it there”. 

“This,” she said, “I would come to realise, reflected a particular view of Big Tech” and “attempts to regulate its harmful impact on consumers and on business”. 

Prior to her role as culture secretary, Dorries served as a mental health minister and said she was “acutely aware” of the suicide rate of young people and the concerns expressed by coroners in relation to the “impact of an unregulated internet on young lives”. 

She added: “After officials explained the bill to me in detail, my instructions to them were clear: let’s get this legislation through parliament as quickly as possible.” 

She went on to claim prime minister Rishi Sunak “is a man in thrall to Big Tech” who has overseen a “managed decline” in the proposed effectiveness of both the Online Safety Bill and Digital Markets, Competition and Consumers Bill during the past year.

A staunch ally of former PM Boris Johnson, Dorries has not been shy about making her feelings about Sunak known, writing a no-holds-barred resignation letter in August in which she accused him of running a “zombie parliament”.

In a previous piece for The Mail on Sunday, she wrote: “Since you took office a year ago… nothing meaningful has happened. What exactly has been done or have you achieved?

“You hold the office of prime minister unelected, without a single vote, not even from your own MPs. 

“You have no mandate from the people and the government is adrift. You have squandered the goodwill of the nation, for what?”

Dorries first announced she would step down with “immediate effect” in June, but did not do so until August.