Eric Schmidt, Executive Chairman of Google, has backed a “hate-speech spell-checker” that would nudge ordinary web users away from unwelcome forms of expression on social media.
Writing in the New York Times, Schmidt said that it was important to use the web’s power of connectivity to “bring out the best in people.” While he acknowledged the positives of the Internet, such as its role as a platform for the “raw reality of oppressed people and their real needs,” he added that the web is “also allowing some of our worst traits – such as envy, oppression, and hate – to come into full view as well.”
Now, Schmidt wants tech companies to make it harder to express those traits: “We should make it easier to see the news from another country’s point of view, and understand the global consciousness free from filter or bias. We should build tools to de-escalate tensions on social media — sort of like spell-checkers, but for hate and harassment.”
Schmidt did not go into specifics of what such spell-checking technology would look like, but as head of Google — and, by extension, YouTube — Schmidt has more power than any individual, save perhaps Mark Zuckerberg, to enact his vision of a new Internet.
It’s also unclear what Schmidt means by “hate and harassment.” The former CEO of Twitter, Dick Costolo, once expressed surprise at the number of people who came to him with complaints of “harassment” on the platform that were in fact mere political disagreements.
But others, especially feminists, have been doggedly attempting to expand the definition of “online harassment” for some time. Notable examples include the arrest and trial of Toronto artist Gregory Alan Elliott for disagreeing with feminists on the internet, and the push by feminists at the U.N. to make “cyberviolence” a major political issue.
Schmidt also took the opportunity to address a major issue for web companies: how to deal with the presence of Islamic State supporters on their platforms. Here, Schmidt took an approach that is likely to please groups like Anonymous, who would like to see the Islamic State chased off the internet:
“We should target social accounts for terrorist groups like the Islamic State, and remove videos before they spread, or help those countering terrorist messages to find their voice,” he wrote. According to Schmidt, if tech companies do not take action, the web would become a tool for “empowering the wrong people.”
It’s a far more aggressive approach than some tech companies, who would prefer their services, like Swiss banks, to remain neutral towards the kinds of users who utilise their platforms. Network security company CloudFlare, for example, is resolute in its commitment to provide their services to any website owner — even those who support the Islamic State.