MG What results has this method
YG The pilot, which was eight weeks
long and ran in Arabic and English,
reached 320,000 people. It had an
exceptionally high click-through
rate on the ads and drove half a million minutes of video watch time.
Given people don’t spend more than
a few seconds on a video they’re not
interested in, that’s encouraging.
After our pilot, You Tube integrated
the method into its search results.
The open-source methodology has
also been replicated by others like
the Gen Next Foundation, and
we continue to support some new
MG Jigsaw also tries to tackle online
censorship. How bad is this
YG If you look at Freedom House’s
index on this, they say that every
year the situation is getting worse.
That’s really discouraging, because
it’s antithetical to what people who
are developing the internet want
for it. The situation is so volatile.
When you have civil unrest, as there
was recently in Iran, you see the
dilemma of repressive governments
around whether or not to shut
down the internet because [censor-ing] it inflames the population and
draws public attention and outrage.
But if those who are in power feel
threatened, they will censor.
MG What can companies like Alphabet
do to counter this?
YG We feel a really big responsibility to
help people get access to informa-
tion, especially when there’s conflict
and repression. One of our prod-
ucts focuses on protecting indepen-
dent media around the world from a
type of censorship attack called dis-
tributed denial of service, or DDoS,
which knocks websites o;ine by
flooding them with tra;c. It’s called
Project Shield. The idea for this came
from our fieldwork. Our team spoke
to the Kenyan election monitoring
group, and their site had gone down
on the day of a key election. Google
has an enormous infrastructure and
world-class DDoS mitigation capa-
bilities, which Project Shield takes
advantage of. Without websites hav-
ing to host with Google or Jigsaw, it
o;ers to vet tra;c before it arrives
at a server so we can spot the tra;c
that’s malicious and filter it out.
MG Let’s switch to the problem of fake
news. How can we better identify
YG The goal of these campaigns is
to plant ideas and narratives via
fake personas and news sites, and
then have these seeds fertilized by
the masses so that the conversations look like they’re organic. The
research question we’ve been asking
ourselves is whether there are technical markers of coordinated, covert
activity versus the more organic
activity we expect to see online.
If there are, we could use these in
We’re looking at several dimensions here. Coordinated campaigns
tend to outlast organic ones, and
the people involved tend to wait to
get instructions from their masters,
so there’s sometimes a slight delay
before they suddenly act together.
Those actors also tend to be linked
in extremely tight networks or clusters that look anomalous. There’s
also a semantic dimension. These
campaigns often use similar words
and phrases that can be a signal of
MG Web companies have been criticized
for not doing enough to address
online hate speech and harassment.
Is that criticism fair?
YG I don’t think anyone imagined that
we’d have the level of intimidation
and hate speech online that we currently do, and we have to try really
hard to make sure that we’re getting
ahead of it.
MG What is Jigsaw doing to frustrate
YG We have a team dedicated to seeing how natural-language processing and machine learning can be
used to identify online toxicity and
help moderators and communities
in tackling it. There’s a model we’ve
developed that’s publicly available,
called Perspective, and you can find
it at www.perspectiveapi.com. This
helps you score comments for their
level of toxicity. The research team
is looking at ways to get to another
level of granularity to help us better
identify what’s happening and how
moderators can control it.
MG There’s been a lot of concern that
bias in algorithms could harm certain
groups in society. Is this something
you’re also focused on?
YG Yes. We’re spending a lot of time
thinking about how we can ensure
that we don’t have biases in our AI
in Perspective that could be harmful
to the goals of that project, which is
to create inclusive and empathetic
MG You spend a lot of your life focused
on the dark side of the internet. Are
you still optimistic about its potential?
YG I am, but we need to keep developing innovative technologies that
can help address these really hard