In an op-ed for The New York Times (paywall), Eric Schmidt, the executive chairman of Google, inserted himself directly into the middle of a heated debate about the line between fighting terrorism’s online reach and internet censorship.
“It’s our responsibility to demonstrate that stability and free expression go hand in hand,” he writes. “We should build tools to help de-escalate tensions on social media—sort of like spell-checkers, but for hate and harassment.”
His words came just after Hillary Clinton, the frontrunner for the Democratic presidential nomination, called on Silicon Valley to “disrupt ISIL” last weekend in Washington DC. Clinton said it is crucial to “deprive jihadists of virtual territory” by shutting off their means of communication.
With the rapid rise of ISIL and its sophisticated online recruitment and propaganda efforts, tech companies have been struggling with finding the balance between preventing terrorists from disseminating their message and being perceived as government tools for controlling the internet. Schmidt underlined that tech platforms should target terrorists’ social media accounts and remove video content—something that Google, Facebook, and Twitter already strive to do.
The problem with American tech companies and their various approaches to clamping down on hate speech is the very arbitrary and fluid definition of said speech. Words that may offend a delicate millennial campus social justice warrior could be censored too. I’ve seen any number of conservative accounts on Facebook suspended or shut down for not being nice to President Obama while hate-filled, death-threat spewing leftist accounts are allowed to go on.
Left in the hands of an industry that is inexplicably dominated by leftists (they’re all getting rich off the free market), censorship is more often wielded against law-abiding citizens on the domestic front who simply don’t agree with progressives. Schmidt may be selling this in the name of fighting terrorism, but let’s remember that progressives are quicker to call conservatives terrorists than they are radical Islamists.