Google has launched an online, artificial intelligence tool that will identify supposed “abusive” and “offensive” comments and hate speech, so that publishers and others in the business of posting readers’ responses to stories can quickly identify what needs to be removed from their sites.
The software, called Perspective, is free and being widely distributed.
Currently, a range of news organizations, including the New York Times, the Guardian and the Economist, are in process of testing it.
“News organizations want to encourage engagement and discussion around their content, but find that sorting through millions of comments to find those that are trolling or abusive takes a lot of money, labor and time,” said Jared Cohen, president of Jigsaw, the Google social incubator that built the tool, the Financial Times reported. “As a result, many sites have shut down comments altogether. But they tell us that isn’t the solution they want.”
So Google’s come up with a way to censor the acceptable from the unacceptable.
And now critics wonder if the software will open the doors to online censorship.
So far, the software’s mostly aimed at publications that are part and parcel of Google’s Digital News Initiative, like the BBC, the Financial Times, Les Echos and La Stampa. But the artificial intelligence is also available to third-party social media platforms, like YouTube, Twitter and Facebook.
“We are open to working with anyone from small developers to the biggest platforms on the internet. We all have a shared interest and benefit from healthy online discussions,” said CJ Adams, product manager at Jigsaw, in the Financial Times.
The problem is defining what constitutes hate speech, or offensive statements.
The algorithm used to determine the software’s filters was tested on hundreds of thousands of user comments already labeled “toxic” by human readers and reviewers. However, that’s not a comfort to many on the conservative side of politics who have already found their posts booted from Facebook, or their story links removed from Twitter, for perceived offensiveness. Of particular sensitivity is the topic of radical Islamism – a subject those on the left oftentimes discount and dismiss, and label as anti-Muslim, while those on the right see as a societal danger, needful of news coverage.
These censorship concerns aren’t unwarranted.
In June 2016, Robert Epstein wrote for US News: “Google, Inc., isn’t just the world’s biggest purveyor of information; it is also the world’s biggest censor.
“The company,” Epstein continued, “maintains at least nine different blacklists that impact our lives, generally without input or authority from any outside advisory group, industry association or government agency. Google is not the only company suppressing content on the internet. Reddit has frequently been accused of banning postings on specific topics, and a recent report suggests that Facebook has been deleting conservative news stories from its newsfeed, a practice that might have a significant effect on public opinion – even on voting. Google, though, is currently the biggest bully on the block.”