Tech exec floats ‘spell-checkers’ but for online hate

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Eric Schmidt, a top executive with Google’s parent company, floated an idea for a kind of “spell-checker” to combat hate and harassment online. 

As lawmakers put increasing pressure on technology companies to help staunch the spread of radical ideology online, Schmidt recommended that companies focus on building tools to “de-escalate tensions” and quickly remove terror content before it spreads online. 

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“We should build tools to help de-escalate tensions on social media — sort of like spell-checkers, but for hate and harassment,” he wrote in a New York Times op-ed. “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.”

Most tech and social media companies already have policies to quickly remove violent or terror-related content when prompted, but they have resisted proposals that would require them to report terrorist activity on their platforms. 

Schmidt is executive chairman at Alphabet, which owns Google and was created earlier this year as an umbrella company for the search giant and other projects. 

Schmidt touted the benefits of the Web, but said “ever since there’s been fire, there’s been arson.”

He strayed away from mention of encryption, which has been one of the most heavily debated topics when it comes to the intersection of law enforcement and technology. In the wake of the Paris attacks, tech companies have continued to resist law enforcement proposals that they say would weaken encryption.

Schmidt did not elaborate on his “spell-checkers” proposal, but it is in line with past statements and his general belief that technology companies can solve problems with innovation rather than specific government regulation. 

During a speech in Washington earlier this year, he brought up the example of email spam. He said when it first became a problem years ago, lawmakers called for regulation, but the companies themselves developed techniques that made it largely irrelevant. 

“And I am worried that we’re now on a path to starting to regulate an awful lot of things on the Internet,” Schmidt said earlier this year at the American Enterprise Institute. “And what happens is you have an actual victim, right, a victim of fraud or a victim of bullying or — you know, these are real victims and they’re real cases, and that well-intentioned regulation, however, does have secondary effects.”