The extension comes courtesy of a partnership between Jigsaw, a tech incubator owned by Google's parent company, Alphabet, and Wonder, a soon-to-be-released movie chronicling the life of a young boy born with facial differences. The extension marks one of the first widespread commercial applications of Jigsaw's Perspective software, which the incubator unveiled in February. Perspective, which has only been available to developers and online publishers until now, uses machine learning to help identify toxic comments, making it easier for site moderators to catch and remove them. Jigsaw defines a toxic comment as one that is "rude, disrespectful, or unreasonable" and "is likely to make you leave a discussion."
The beauty of today's #ChooseKind extension, released to coincide with World Kindness Day, is that it gives the everyday user more control over your social feeds. You don't need to wait for Twitter, Facebook, and YouTube to take regulatory action — the extension does it immediately.
After installing the extension here, click the astronaut logo in the upper right hand corner of your browser and sign in with your Google account. If the extension detects toxic language in a post on one of the social platforms above, it will automatically replace it with a kinder phrase. It's easy to identify the posts that have been changed — the font is different and usually shows up with a small illustration or in blue typeface. You'll still have the option to reveal the original post, but keeping it hidden is the default.
Of course, reforming online comment sections is not just about creating a more pleasant viewer experience, it's also about tackling biases and facilitating healthier conversations online. According to a report from the Pew Research Center, 41% of U.S. adults have dealt with harassing behavior online and 66% have witnessed it. Among those, women and young women are significantly more likely than men to report experiencing sexualized forms of online abuse. Race is also a factor: A 2016 report from The Guardian found that eight of the 10 most abused writers in the site's comment sections were women, and two were black men.
Comment sections should be a place for open, productive conversation, but harassment tends to drive people away from them. In the Pew Research study, 27% of Americans said they chose not to add their input in comments after witness the abuse of others.
The #ChooseKind extension can't prevent people from leaving toxic comments in the first place, so it should not be seen as a permanent fix — action needs to come from the platforms where the abuse is taking place. However, it does promote kindness and provides a respite from inflammatory comments, which is something everyone can probably use more of in 2017.