Proofreading, spell-checking for hate.

Proofreading has been one of the mainstays of my teaching career, having to proofread and evaluate written work created by students.

The red pen, the green pen daubed over work with amendments, suggestions and corrections. I’m a fully paid-up member of the grammar and spelling police, a proper pedant. It’s in my Levi’s, my jeans, this urge to check and correct, a proofreading professor.

A news story though this morning really caught my eye:  Google’s chairman Eric Schmidt believes that search engines should filter out extremist material to de-escalate tensions on social media. A spell check of hate.

As I’ve written about before on LinkedIn, in my short review of the Steve Jobs movie, Apple have always resisted open source systems and favoured encryption. I remember something similar in the north London riots which were apparently coordinated by users of BBM on Blackberry smartphones, as they’re encrypted.

I’m not entirely sure what to make of this sort of international censorship – hate crime is hate crime whether it’s committed by local trolls on Twitter or to coordinate terrorism. Schmidt though argues cogently that it’s not censorship or an invasion of privacy:

“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.”

Hilary Clinton seems to go one step further – calling for domain hosts to close down perpetrators of hate.

Personally, I’ll fence sit. I think society is currently already Orwellian, with the data it holds and shares with others, often without permission. I thought blacklisting was a historical relic, a figment of the imagination, but the Information Commission Office have proven that construction workers were blacklisted, without knowing.

It goes on in all parts of life, I know that.

But in extreme cases, is state surveillance a good thing? Google as proofreader and moral arbiter?

I’d ask, as I ask myself daily, who would be the arbiter in these cases? Who sits as judge and jury?

Can you trust the people charged with making these decisions? Are they objective in proofreading?

What do you think?

 

 

 

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