Big Tech Backlash

Google tool for hate crimes questioned by conservative media

Google is attempting to help reporters find hate crime stories with machine learning – though it remains to be seen how impartial the effort is.

The machine-learning tool is aimed at helping journalists utilize hate crime data in their reporting, Simon Rogers, Data Editor at Google News Lab, wrote in a blog post, announcing the feature.

“Hate crimes in America have historically been difficult to track since there is very little official data collected," Rogers wrote. "What data does exist is incomplete and not very useful for reporters keen to learn more."

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The tool takes a raw feed of Google News articles from the past six months and uses the Google Cloud Natural Language to create a visual tool to help reporters find news.

The index was built in collaboration with ProPublica, a non-profit that, according to its website, "produces investigative journalism in the public interest."

ProPublica says its journalism “shines a light on exploitation of the weak by the strong and on the failures of those with power to vindicate the trust placed in them.”

Google lists the coalition, which is led by ProPublica, as organizations including Univision News, the New York Times, BuzzFeed News, New America Media and The Root. The coalition is also working with the Southern Poverty Law Center and the University of Miami School of Communications.

Conservative media sees lack of balance

“On the surface, this looks rather innocuous…But a quick glance at the list of partners for this project should raise some red flags,” wrote Paula Bolyard, supervising editor at PJ Media, a conservative media site.

"ProPublica isn't concerned about left-wing extremist groups," Bolyard told Fox News in an email, adding that its bias "could lead to widespread blacklisting of mainstream conservative sites."

Another conservative news site, the Daily Caller, wrote: “high-profile conservative websites…have little to no presence on the tool.”  

And even ProPublica seems to hint at the challenge of maintaining neutrality in an article entitled, “Despite Disavowals, Leading Tech Companies Help Extremist Sites Monetize Hate.”

"Where to set the boundaries between hate speech and legitimate advocacy for perspectives on the edge of the political spectrum, and who should set them, are complex and difficult questions,” the article reads. “Like other media outlets, we relied in part on the Southern Poverty Law Center’s public list of ‘Active Hate Groups 2016.’ This list is controversial in some circles, with critics questioning whether the SPLC is too quick to brand organizations on the right as hate groups."

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Google and ProPublica response

Google says that the stories from the index "come from all kinds of publishers,” adding in a statement to Fox News, "the project is owned and run by ProPublica. We don't set the parameters." 

ProPublic President Richard J. Tofel said the point isn't about reaching out to differing political views — it's about news and facts.

"We cover news and uncover facts," Tofel told Fox News via email. "But that is not a polling process...so reaching out to different political views is not necessarily the point—reaching people with knowledge, or an interest in a story, is."

"On the subject of hate, for instance, our reporters have, just since the murder in Charlottesville, quoted Robert Spencer of JihadWatch, Pamela Geller, Eli Mosley, Matthew Heimbach of the Traditionalist Workers Party, and spokespeople for Vanguard America, Sputnik and Newsmax extensively," he said.

Regarding the Documenting Hate coalition, "it is voluntary, and contains 124 partners at the moment, and we welcome additions—and receive them all the time," Tofel said. 

He added that the metro newspapers in places like Billings, Montana, Boise, Idaho, or Charleston, South Carolina, Houston, Texas, and Jacksonville, Florida  — all of whom are members — are not "liberal outlets."