The Cable

The Cable goes inside the foreign policy machine, from Foggy Bottom to Turtle Bay, the White House to Embassy Row.

Google’s Eric Schmidt Says More Information is Good, Even If It’s Wrong

The Google tycoon talked diplomacy in a digital age at Foreign Policy’s Diplomat of the Year awards dinner.

By , a diplomacy and national security reporter at Foreign Policy.
schmidt-crop
schmidt-crop

Information overload is a real problem these days. Internet trolling, fake news stories, information “echo chambers,” and the dark side of social media have headlined discussions on the future of politics and culture, particularly after the U.S. presidential elections. Perhaps no one is better suited to address this challenge than the man behind Google.

“We, and I personally, believe very strongly that more information is better, even if it’s wrong,” said Eric Schmidt, executive chairman of Google’s parent company Alphabet, Inc.

“Let’s start from the premise that more information, more empowerment, is fundamentally the correct answer” to the world’s most pressing challenges, Schmidt said Thursday after accepting Foreign Policy’s Diplomat of the Year award.

Information overload is a real problem these days. Internet trolling, fake news stories, information “echo chambers,” and the dark side of social media have headlined discussions on the future of politics and culture, particularly after the U.S. presidential elections. Perhaps no one is better suited to address this challenge than the man behind Google.

“We, and I personally, believe very strongly that more information is better, even if it’s wrong,” said Eric Schmidt, executive chairman of Google’s parent company Alphabet, Inc.

“Let’s start from the premise that more information, more empowerment, is fundamentally the correct answer” to the world’s most pressing challenges, Schmidt said Thursday after accepting Foreign Policy’s Diplomat of the Year award.

Google is facing scrutiny in the aftermath of a presidential election season headlined by hacking, falsified news, trolling, and hateful rhetoric on the net. On Tuesday, Google CEO Sundar Pichai said fake news sites bankrolled by Google-served ads could have swung the election results in President-elect Donald Trump’s favor. Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg pushed back against similar accusations, saying it was “extremely unlikely” that his social media platform swayed the election, despite new findings indicating fake news performed better than real news on Facebook during the election.

Pichai said Google has already taken steps to confront the fake news phenomenon. “From our perspective, there should just be no situation where fake news gets distributed, so we are all for doing better here.”

In a discussion Thursday night with FP CEO and Editor David Rothkopf, Schmidt touted Google’s recent tests to combat trolling. “I’m absolutely convinced that these questions about validity, good information, bad information, will be sorted out,” he said. On trolling, Schmidt said “there’s a straightforward technological solution to an evil behavior. It’s easy to do, we did it, it can be replicated. And there’ll be more such solutions.” Google announced a new project to automatically fact-check news in ‘real time’ earlier Thursday.

Schmidt also stressed the positive impact of information on the world. “It’s amazing how powerful the need for information is and how information-starved everyone is. So let’s start by celebrating…that we are busy empowering people in a way that is fundamentally different,” he said, citing the economic, educational, and security benefits a person in the developing world gains from just a cell phone.

Schmidt joined awardees Paris Mayor Anne Hidalgo and Hafsat Abiola, founder of the Kudirat Initiative for Democracy (KIND) on stage at FP’s awards dinner. Tech talk wasn’t the event’s only agenda item. Climate change also dominated the evening’s discussion.

Hidalgo, receiving the Green Diplomat of the Year Award on behalf of C40 Cities, called climate change “the most important challenge humankind has ever had to face.” In December 2015, a landmark international climate change deal was brokered in Hidalgo’s city. Now that deal may be under threat as Trump, a vocal skeptic of climate change, steps into the Oval Office.

“Climate change is not just a bad movie or a bad reality show,” Hidalgo said, a tacit poke at the real estate mogul and reality TV star who just won the U.S. presidency.

Amid talks of cyber war, fake news, and climate change, Abiola gave a message of hope and optimism at FP’s dinner when she received the Citizen Diplomat of the Year award.

“What we hope depends on who is in our corner,” Abiola said, speaking of the optimism she shares for the future of her native Nigeria and the United States, despite the reality of each country’s political challenges. “The distance between hope and reality is partnership, collaboration, solidarity,” she said.

Robbie Gramer is a diplomacy and national security reporter at Foreign Policy. Twitter: @RobbieGramer

More from Foreign Policy

Soldiers of the P18 Gotland Regiment of the Swedish Army camouflage an armoured vehicle during a field exercise near Visby on the Swedish island of Gotland on May 17.
Soldiers of the P18 Gotland Regiment of the Swedish Army camouflage an armoured vehicle during a field exercise near Visby on the Swedish island of Gotland on May 17.

What Are Sweden and Finland Thinking?

European leaders have reassessed Russia’s intentions and are balancing against the threat that Putin poses to the territorial status quo. 

Ukrainian infantry take part in a training exercise with tanks near Dnipropetrovsk oblast, Ukraine, less than 50 miles from the front lines, on May 9.
Ukrainian infantry take part in a training exercise with tanks near Dnipropetrovsk oblast, Ukraine, less than 50 miles from the front lines, on May 9.

The Window To Expel Russia From Ukraine Is Now

Russia is digging in across the southeast.

U.S. President Joe Biden and Secretary of State Antony Blinken participate in a virtual summit with the leaders of Quadrilateral Security Dialogue countries at the White House in Washington on March 12.
U.S. President Joe Biden and Secretary of State Antony Blinken participate in a virtual summit with the leaders of Quadrilateral Security Dialogue countries at the White House in Washington on March 12.

Why China Is Paranoid About the Quad

Beijing has long lived with U.S. alliances in Asia, but a realigned India would change the game.

Members of the National Defence Training Association of Finland attend a training.
Members of the National Defence Training Association of Finland attend a training.

Finns Show Up for Conscription. Russians Dodge It.

Two seemingly similar systems produce very different militaries.