Schmidt, the executive chairman of Google’s parent company Alphabet, wrote in the New York Times that individuals, tech companies and governments all have a role to play in ensuring the internet is only used for positive ends.
He wrote: “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.
“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.”
Quoting the influential cyberlibertarian John Perry Barlow, Schmidt argued that, in many ways, the internet has delivered on its promise of “a world where anyone, anywhere may express his or her beliefs, no matter how singular, without fear of being coerced into silence or conformity”.
But, he said: “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.”
He concluded that “it’s our responsibility to demonstrate that stability and free expression go hand in hand”.
Schmidt’s call mirrored a speech from Barack Obama on Sunday night, who argued that, while “the internet erases the distance between countries, we see growing efforts by terrorists to poison the minds of people like the Boston Marathon bombers and the San Bernardino killers”. Obama called on tech leaders to “make it harder for terrorists to use technology to escape from justice”.
Controlling terrorism on the internet has also hit the US presidential race, with both Republican and Democratic candidates calling for greater levels of censorship online.
In a speech, Hilary Clinton said: “We’re going to have to have more support from our friends in the technology world to deny online space. Just as we have to destroy [ISIS’s] would-be caliphate, we have to deny them online space.
“And this is complicated. You’re going to hear all of the usual complaints, you know, freedom of speech etc. But if we truly are in a war against terrorism and we are truly looking for ways to shut off their funding, shut off the flow of foreign fighters, then we’ve got to shut off their means of communicating.”
Separately, Donald Trump made a similar call, shortly before demanding that the US close its border to all Muslims. “We are losing a lot of people to the internet,” Trump said. “We have to do something. We have to go see Bill Gates and a lot of different people that really understand what’s happening.
“We have to talk to them [about], maybe in certain areas, closing that internet up in some way. Some people will say, ‘Freedom of speech, Freedom of speech’. These are foolish people. We have a lot of foolish people.”
This article was written by Alex Hern, for theguardian.com on Tuesday 8th December 2015 10.05 Europe/Londonguardian.co.uk © Guardian News and Media Limited 2010