'Spell-check for hate' needed, says Google's Schmidt

Google executive chairman Eric Schmidt in Seoul on November 7, 2011. Image copyright Reuters

Technology companies should work on tools to disrupt terrorism - such as creating a hate speech "spell-checker" - Google's chairman Eric Schmidt has said.

Writing in the New York Times, Mr Schmidt said using technology to automatically filter-out extremist material would "de-escalate tensions on social media" and "remove videos before they spread".

His essay comes as presidential hopeful Hillary Clinton again called on Silicon Valley to help tackle terrorism, specifically seeking tools to combat the so-called Islamic State.

"We need to put the great disrupters at work at disrupting ISIS," she said during a speech in Washington DC.

In the wake of the Paris attacks, companies and governments have clashed over how to handle the terrorism threat.

Many tech firms, buoyed by the fallout from the Edward Snowden leaks, have stood firm on encryption - with the likes of Apple and others making it near-impossible to access a locked smartphone without the password, a move that has frustrated some politicians.

Easing tensions

With the terrorism debate escalating after last week's shootings in San Bernardino, Mr Schmidt's editorial appears to be an attempt to ease these tensions and show a willingness from technology companies to help.

"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," Mr Schmidt wrote.

"For all the good people can do with new tools and new inventions, there are always some who will seek to do harm.

"Ever since there's been fire, there's been arson."

Image copyright Reuters
Image caption Firms like Apple have not backed down on device encryption

He insisted that censorship and invasions of privacy would not solve the situation.

"We should build tools to help de-escalate tensions on social media - sort of like spell-checkers, but for hate and harassment. 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.

"Without this type of leadership from government, from citizens, from tech companies, the Internet could become a vehicle for further disaggregation of poorly built societies, and the empowerment of the wrong people, and the wrong voices."

Virtual territory

On Monday, White House spokesman Josh Earnest told reporters the US government wanted to avoid "the urge to trample a bunch of civil liberties".

And in addition to her speech on Sunday, Mrs Clinton later shared her "plan to defeat ISIS" on long-form writing platform Medium, and called for co-operation.

Image copyright AP

She said: "Resolve means depriving jihadists of virtual territory just as we work to deprive them of actual territory."

"They are using websites, social media, chat rooms, and other platforms to celebrate beheadings, recruit future terrorists, and call for attacks.

"We should work with host companies to shut them down."

Follow Dave Lee on Twitter @DaveLeeBBC