Google plans to tell users when to wash their mouths out: moderating our toxic talk by giving us Perspective #mscedc

The oracle at Delphi offered ambiguous data. But, carved in the stones of Delphi were instructions to ‘know thyself’ and ‘nothing in excess’. Such was ancient moderation, and much played over within the tales associated with those who sought the wisdom of the oracle.

Google, it seems, is offering a tech-based equivalent, according to this article from BBC News:


Algorithmically derived, Google wants to teach us to know ourselves, and to moderate our excess, in the face of the ambiguities of digital life. It’ called ‘Perspective’, which should attract a Donna Haraway related concern about the ‘god trick’ involved or invoked here. (As an aside, both Haraway and Perspective are a long way from how John Calvin opens his ‘Institutes of the Christian Religion’, where he notes that the sum of almost all knowledge is knowledge of God an knowledge of self.) As one of those behind Perspective explains, according to this BBC News article:

“Jared Cohen of Jigsaw explains three ways Perspective could be used: by websites to help moderate comments, by users wanting to choose the level of rudeness they see in the online conversations they take part in, and by people wanting to restrain their own behaviour.”

In anticipation of ‘Algorithmic Cultures’ to come, here’s another locus where ‘Community Cultures’ bleed and blend in. For learning and education, there are significant questions to be asked, not least as to whether this will induce deep learning, deep change, within users – or whether it’s an out-sourcing of emotional and social intelligence beyond the individual user, and another excuse for such ‘toxic talk’ online. For freedom of speech, it’s not mentioned here in this BBC News article, but how far until surveillance, or even permission, is similarly appraised? Concerns regarding ‘pre-crime’ under the anti-radicalisation and British values inherent in the UK Government’s ‘Prevent’ agenda also raise such questions.


It might be worth recalling the third aphorism inscribed at Delphi: ‘A pledge comes from madness’. Google beware. You’ve been warned!