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Leaked presentation shows Google's struggle to balance free speech, censorship

Leaked presentation shows Google's struggle to balance free speech, censorship
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The leak of internal research at Google is giving a rare glimpse into how the company is grappling with balancing free speech with the pressure to crack down on harmful or troublesome content

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A research presentation, titled “The Good Censor” was leaked to the conservative news outlet Breitbart, which then published it in its entirety.

The slides discuss the questions Google must contend with as it determines how to handle user content. They cover a range of information, including analysis from researchers, journalists and critics as well as Google’s interpretation of those findings.

It’s unclear who the presentation was intended for, but it provides a window into how the company is trying to grapple with issues of free speech and censorship.

“How can Google reassure the world that it protects users from harmful content while still supporting free speech?” the presentation asks at the start.

Another slide shows a spectrum with "free speech" on one end and "user welfare" on the other.

In the presentation, Google notes that many digital platforms, including itself, Facebook and Twitter, were founded with leanings toward free speech. But those platforms now find themselves increasingly “performing a balancing act between two incompatible positions.”

The “utopian principles of free speech,” as Google describes it, are now being compromised by bad actors and difficult situations.

Google cites several examples of this including the rise of the alt-right on social media. The presentation also highlights a controversial incident in which video blogger Logan Paul who broadcasted the corpse of someone who committed suicide to a massive audience.

Google confirmed the presentation to The Verge.

“Google is committed to free expression — supporting the free flow of ideas is core to our mission," it said in a statement to The Verge. "Where we have developed our own content policies, we enforce them in a politically neutral way. Giving preference to content of one political ideology over another would fundamentally conflict with our goal of providing services that work for everyone.”

The experts consulted or cited in the presentation include the writer Franklin Foer and George Washington University researcher Kalev Leetaru, among others.