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Google’s Jigsaw Expands Efforts to Combat Online “Toxicity” and Invest in Censorship Tools

If you’re tired of censorship and surveillance, subscribe to Reclaim The Net.

Google’s Jigsaw started out as Google Ideas – and Eric Schmidt’s idea back in 2010 was for it to serve as a way of researching “issues at the intersection of technology and geopolitics.”

But that was a little too “open and honest” – so fast-forward, and Jigsaw is an Alphabet (Google) division that has rebranded as a way for the tech juggernaut to tackle things like “misinformation,” “toxicity,” and create “a safer internet.”

A new initiative is to “identify and mitigate toxicity that frequently reduces participation in online debates” and “protect online spaces from hate and toxicity.”

The promise of more investment in “moderation” tools at that point almost goes without saying.

In a post on Medium, those behind Jigsaw from the get-go frame this newest push not as a way to, in reality, reduce participation in online “conversation” (by excluding those branded as propagators of “toxicity and hate) – but quite the contrary, to “enable more voices to participate.”

(Jigsaw/Google doesn’t specify, however, if this means more “voices” in general – or more of a certain kind of “voices”.)

Either way, the post says this is what Jigsaw (via its Perspective API, powered by machine learning) has been doing since 2017. It’s been adopted by as many as 10,000 entities, publishers, and social platforms and is available in 18 languages.

“Moderators can use Perspective to quickly prioritize and review comments that have been reported and give feedback to commenters who post toxic comments,” Jigsaw brags about the features of its censorship software.

Now, things are getting, if not a little better (if Jigsaw is to be believed) a lot more granular. Perspective, the post said, has expanded in scope “to add bridging attributes, a new suite of tools to recognize qualities like reasoning, curiosity, and personal stories that correlate with more constructive contributions and help keep conversations going among disparate groups.”

And it’s only a first step in what Jigsaw calls a shift that will use “deliberative technology” as a foundation to incorporate (presumably more sophisticated than machine learning) AI, with the end goal of providing a kind of “puppeteer input” (and subsequent influence).

Like so: “Jigsaw will explore how the latest AI technology might enhance and scale these technologies, supporting both conversation participants and community leaders to make sense of and act on the opinions shared.”

The plan is to develop the initiative using three paths – a research agenda aimed at developing the tech in question, teaming up with Google DeepMind on large-scale conversations (exploring “how sense can be made” of those, as the article put it).

And then, as far as Google is concerned, democracy in Europe is in need of finding some “resilience.” To achieve it, Jigsaw will support “an open call for proposals with to help scale social impact initiatives promoting democratic resilience in Europe.”

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