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Google’s Eric Schmidt calls for social media controls

Google chairman Eric Schmidt has called for tech firms to develop “spellcheckers” for hate and harassment as alternatives to censorship

Google chairman Eric Schmidt has called on technology firms to create tools to de-escalate the tensions on social media caused by terrorist groups such as Islamic State (IS).

“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,” he wrote in the New York Times

Schmidt sees what he termed “spellcheckers” for hate and harassment as better alternatives to censorship in response to the Paris terror attacks and the terror-inspired shootings in San Bernardino, California.

“It’s our responsibility to demonstrate that stability and free expression go hand in hand. We should make it ever easier to see the news from another country’s point of view, and understand the global consciousness free from filter or bias,” he wrote.

US officials say the San Bernardino attackers - Syed Rizwan Farook and Tashfeen Malik -  were radicalised, with Malik reportedly pledging her allegiance to IS leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi through social media on the day of the attack.

Technology firms have been under pressure to make it easier for governments to access private communications in the wake of the attacks.

"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," Schmidt wrote.

Google chief calls for leadership

"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."

Schmidt said IS in Iraq and Syria has harnessed social media to appeal to disaffected young people and called for "leadership" from governments and technology companies to help tackle the problem.

“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 said.

The article comes just a day after US president Barack Obama said he would urge high-tech leaders to make it harder for terrorists to use technology to escape from justice in an address to the nation in response to the killings in San Bernadino, which he labelled “a terrorist act”.

Both attacks have also fuelled the ongoing debate around encryption and the need for law enforcement and security agencies to access online communications of suspects.

According to US reports, the White House has already begun raising its concerns with tech firms about reports that terrorists may have used encrypted technology to co-ordinate and plan attacks in Paris on 13 November 2015 that killed 130 people.

Obama did not give details of how he planned to work with the technology industry to counter terrorism, sparking speculation that he may be reconsidering his position on encryption.

But US officials have been quick to deny that Obama is reconsidering his decision not to seek legislation requiring technology firms to create backdoors to access encrypted communications.

An unnamed official said that while the US did not want its companies to be disadvantaged, the government hoped the firms would help prevent the technologies from being used in terror attacks, according to LiveMint.

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