Google Sister Company Using SPLC Data To Develop Comment Moderation Engine


J. Arthur Bloom Deputy Editor
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Jigsaw, the Alphabet subsidiary that began as the Google Ideas think tank, has been utilizing Southern Poverty Law Center datasets in the development of their Perspective API, a comment moderation engine, documents shared with The Daily Caller indicate.

Three sets of comments from Breitbart, The Daily Stormer and Stormfront were provided to Jigsaw by the SPLC and have been identified both in internal company memos and code for the API. The latter two are neo-Nazi websites.

These datasets were provided in raw form to Jigsaw, meaning that the embattled Montgomery nonprofit is assisting the development of a Google comment moderation product intended to be applied across a wide swath of the media. It also represents confirmation that the SPLC has been scraping wholesale the content of far-right websites.

The Perspective API is “part of the Conversation AI research effort that aims to help increase empathy, participation and quality in online conversation at scale,” according to its Github description, and was originally known as the Respect Engine within the company. This new moderation product scores comments based on “toxicity,” meaning a comment containing expressive language or ad-hominem attacks would get a higher score than reasonable disagreement. That score can then be used to either approve, block, or otherwise rank a comment. (RELATED: Documents Detailing Google’s ‘News Blacklist’ Show Manual Manipulation Of Special Search Results)

Among the partners working to apply the Perspective API are the New York Times, Wikimedia Foundation, The Economist, and The Guardian. “By making its archive of moderated comments available to Jigsaw, The Times hopes to provide a unique foundation for the creation of machine learning modules that can assess fresh comments in real time,” reads a 2016 statement from the New York Times in which they announced the collaboration.

But for companies not directly working with Jigsaw, they have to get their data elsewhere. For far-right websites, it appears that they obtain some of that data from the Southern Poverty Law Center.

The CEO of Jigsaw is Jared Cohen, an adjunct fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations, who worked in the State Department during the Bush and Obama administrations, for Condoleezza Rice and Hillary Clinton. Cohen, who claims to speak Swahili, was implicated in fomenting regime change across the Arab world in the Stratfor leaks released by Wikileaks. In Cohen’s CFR bio he boasts that his book co-authored with Eric Schmidt, The Digital Disruption: Connectivity and the Diffusion of Power “appeared in Foreign Affairs just a few months before the Arab Spring.”

“Jigsaw is an Alphabet company that builds technology to make the world safer. As part of our work, we collaborate with organizations such as news organizations, non-profits and academic institutions to share knowledge and test the usability of our technology,” a spokesperson from Jigsaw told The Daily Caller. They declined to answer a follow-up question about whether the SPLC was one of those non-profits they collaborate with.