Will it ping Donald Trump? Spellchecker for hate and harassment urged to tackle terrorism on the internet
Technology firms are being urged to work together to tackle terrorism on the internet, by Eric Schmidt, the executive chairman of Google’s parent company Alphabet.
He said that the tech industry should build “spell-checkers, but for hate and harassment”.
Schmidt made the call in a piece for the New York Times entitled ‘How to Build a Better Web’.
His article comes amid growing controversy after the leading Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump called for the immediate ban on Muslims entering the United States. As well increasing concerns about how best to combat the terrorist threat of ISIS.
In his article, Schmidt said the Internet had created safe spaces for communities to connect, communicate, organise and mobilise, and it has helped many people to find their place and their voice.
But Schmidt acknowledged there are serious problems at the moment.
“As with all great advances in technology, expanded Web access has also brought with it some serious challenges, like threats to free speech, qualms about surveillance and fears of online terrorist activity,” wrote Schmidt. “For all the good people can do with new tools and new inventions, there are always some who will seek to do harm.”
“In the Middle East, terrorists use social media to recruit new members,” wrote Schmidt. “In particular, the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria has harnessed social media to appeal to disaffected young people, giving them a sense of belonging and direction that they are not getting anywhere else. The militants’ propaganda videos are high on style and production value. They’re slick and marketable. In short, they are deluding some people to believe that living a life fuelled by hatred and violence is actually … cool.”
And Schmidt said this is where the tech industry needs to step up to plate to combat these threats.
“Technology doesn’t work on its own, after all. It’s just a tool. We are the ones who harness its power,” he wrote. “Authoritarian governments tell their citizens that censorship is necessary for stability. It’s our responsibility to demonstrate that stability and free expression go hand in hand.”
“We should make it ever easier to see the news from another country’s point of view, and understand the global consciousness free from filter or bias,” said Schmidt. “We should build tools to help de-escalate tensions on social media – sort of like spell-checkers, but for hate and harassment.”
Schmidt also said the tech industry 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.
Schmidt’s article comes at a time of public debate about the global terror threat. President Obama at the weekend called on the tech industry to help in the global fight against fight against ISIS terrorists and other extremist groups.
The US government is currently favouring two approaches. It wants tech firms to help by restricting the use of social media for violent ends.
It is likely to gain cooperation on this point, but the second thrust of President Obama is to weaken encryption to make it easier for the government to monitor communications. Indeed last month, Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus Vance called for weaker encryption levels on smartphones to aid in criminal investigations.
But the tech industry are unified in their opposition to this second strategy. Indeed, in June a number of leading technology companies including Google, Apple, IBM, Microsoft and Facebook wrote a strongly-worded open letter to President Obama, calling for him to respect the privacy rights of consumers by not weakening encryption systems.
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