With less than six weeks to go until the U.S. Presidential election, Alphabet CEO and 2020 TIME100 honoree Sundar Pichai has reiterated his company’s commitment to fighting online misinformation on its platforms, particularly YouTube.
“We’ve made a lot of progress,” Pichai told TIME Editor-at-Large and former Editor-in-Chief Nancy Gibbs in a wide-ranging TIME100 Talks interview that aired Sept. 23. “Misinformation can be dangerous. Online platforms can play a role in amplifying it. So the work we have done to understand what is either misinformation or low-quality content and make sure that doesn’t get recommended and shared has been the thrust of our efforts there.”
Following the 2016 election, both Alphabet (parent company to both YouTube and Google) and competitor Facebook came under fire for allowing a tide of fake news and misinformation related to the election to propagate on their platforms. Four years later, some are worried that a similar dynamic, exacerbated by continuing disinformation campaigns from outside the U.S., could impact the outcome of the upcoming election.
“There’s a lot more awareness, I think, so the scale of our efforts are significantly larger,” Pichai said, explaining that the company has more than 30 teams working on the issue, and that the internet giant has been in consultation with the U.S. government and its intelligence agencies. “We are all putting in a lot of effort, but we have to stay vigilant because the stakes are high in a democracy through an election cycle.”
“It’s where most of our effort is going into, particularly on YouTube,” Pichai said. “In fact, that’s been the single-highest focus for the team for the past three years now.”
Pichai noted that there is a certain amount of complexity surrounding the issue of misinformation from the perspective of an internet platform.
“The difficulty comes when there are areas which are nuanced and people don’t agree on the balance between free speech and what is the wrong kind of speech to propagate,” Pichai said. “That’s been hard at scale. That’s not an excuse. The amount we invest in these areas have significantly scaled up. I think we are making a lot of progress.”
However, the CEO stressed that his company understands the gravity of its role in maintaining the integrity of an election under high-stakes and historic conditions.
“Holding free and safe elections is as foundational to the functioning of a democracy as it gets,” Pichai said. “As an information company we view it as one of the most important responsibilities we have.”
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