Google is attempting to tackle one of the most hostile places on the Internet: comment sections. This week, the search engine announced a new project called Perspective in collaboration with Jigsaw, a tech incubator owned by Google's parent company.
"Imagine trying to have a conversation with your friends about the news you read this morning, but every time you said something, someone shouted in your face, called you a nasty name or accused you of some awful crime," said Jared Cohen, Jigsaw's president, in a statement about the problems Perspective aims to address.
Perspective is essentially a very smart online moderator. Using machine learning, the technology can identify toxic comments that might drive people who have something constructive to say away from the discussion. The tool was tested in collaboration with The New York Times, where reviewers are currently tasked with sifting through as many as 11,000 comments every day. (Other news sites, including The Week and Bloomberg, have resorted to ditching comment sections all together.)
The hope is that Perspective will not only speed up the process of reviewing comments and open up new conversations online, but also prohibit toxic comments from being published in the first place.
Statistics about online harassment are alarmingly high. According to a report from the Data & Society Research Institute, 47% of people online have experienced some form of abuse, leading 27% of of Internet users to sensor what they say online out of concern that they may become a target themselves.
Perspective is still in its early stages, but, if used by online publishers, could have a positive effect on those numbers.