Alphabet (GOOG) executive chairman Eric Schmidt has a plan for fixing the Internet.
In an op-ed in The New York Times on Monday, Schmidt extolled the virtues of the Internet, saying it provides an opportunity for people around the globe to connect, and those in developing countries an opportunity to see all the world has to offer. But his piece quickly turned dark, saying the Internet has also become a place where oppression and harassment are all too common.
“In Myanmar, connectivity fans the flames of violence against the Rohingya, the minority Muslim population,” Schmidt wrote. “In Russia, farms of online trolls systematically harass democratic voices and spread false information on the Internet and on social media. And in the Middle East, terrorists use social media to recruit new members. In particular, the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria has harnessed social media to appeal to disaffected young people, giving them a sense of belonging and direction that they are not getting anywhere else.”
Schmidt went on to decry how the Internet is used for “envy, oppression, and hate,” and how authoritarian governments around the world “tell their citizens that censorship is necessary for stability.”
Schmidt’s comments are nothing new. Indeed, several of the most prominent figures in the technology industry, including Google co-founder Larry Page and Facebook (FB) co-founder and CEO Mark Zuckerberg, have railed against the dark side of the Internet. “Cyberbullying” has become a buzzword as people around the globe face harassment online. Technology companies have tried to address some of those issues by offering users filters or on Twitter, the opportunity to block others. Still, so-called “trolling,” or the attempts by web users to attack others, is rampant.
Meanwhile, militant groups, including ISIS and al-Qaida, have used the Internet to espouse their beliefs and gain followers, and hackers in every part of the world are attacking both major companies and individuals.
In a speech to the nation Sunday, President Barack Obama, like Schmidt, said that he was concerned about the Internet. The president said that while the Internet “erases the distance between countries,” it also provides a platform for “terrorists to poison the minds of people.” He called on technology companies to limit how terrorists use their services to safeguard against such poisoning.
Schmidt, whose company, through its Google search platform and social-video site YouTube, provides gateways for people to access all the Internet has to offer, did not shy away from the president’s concerns. Indeed, he said companies should work toward eliminating “social accounts for terrorist groups like the Islamic State, and remove video before they spread.” He added, however, that governments must also play a role in making the web a better place.
“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,” he wrote.
Schmidt also shared an idea for fixing the Internet’s harassment. He said companies should develop tools, “sort of like spell-checkers,” that filter “hate and harassment” through social media channels. He didn’t say how that may work or the ways in which they would be implemented, but argued that they could create a better Internet.
Looking ahead, Schmidt found a silver lining. He said if everyone—users, governments, and companies—can work together and use their combined “intuition, compassion, (and) creativity,” it would be possible to build a “safe and vibrant place” from which all Internet users will benefit.
“The good news is, it’s all within reach,” Schmidt wrote.
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