Google’s Biased Search Results

I had always been somewhat aware of the fact that Google prioritizes some search results over others, however I did not understand the magnitude of this problem, and its social implications. Originally, I was under the impression and aware of the fact that some companies could pay to have their results move to the top of the search for certain things, but I believed that this was always indicated on the site as a “Paid advertisement”. However, after further researching this search engine bias, I have come to realize that there are many more issues under the surface that the general public needs to be aware of and needs to be changed.

There are countless articles written about biased searched in Google and anti-trust lawsuits have been filed in 2012. In one article, written by Julianna Johnson, it is written that searches for things described by racial or gendered language yield disturbingly biased results from the search engine. One example used in the article was when searching “black girls” in Google, the top results were dominated by pornographic and racist sites. When I first read this I did not believe it, and was somewhat skeptical because the article was written in 2012 and I believed that Google must have fixed this by now. I did the same search in my own search engine and did not get the same results. However, the article goes on to describe more subtle issues in the search engine’s algorithms. For example, when searching for women’s magazines you are flooded with links to Cosmo and Playboy. I wanted to test some other search results for myself to get a realistic view of where this issue stands today.

I ended up googling the words “latina girl” because it was similar in nature to the article’s example “black girl”, and indeed the results were very disheartening. Many of the links were for things like “why you should date a latnia girl” or “hot latina girl twerking video” and much worse. While this issue has never been noticed by me, I can see why it is a huge issue. As described in the article, these search results have social implications in how young girls and minority individuals view themselves in the eyes of society. Growing up and searching google to try to learn about yourself and seeing these types of results is not only disturbing, but discouraging because it will affect how these individuals feel about how their worth is viewed in society.

Link to search results: https://www.google.com/webhp?sourceid=chrome-instant&ion=1&espv=2&ie=UTF-8#q=latina+girl

Conversely to the results that I found when googling for minority information, when I typed in “white male” the results were much more relevant. I was linked to recent articles about how white males contributed to Trump’s recent presidential victory, and other current issues that white males are upset about. As I read these results the thought occurred to me that there should be articles and links to the same types of articles if i were to type in “latina women” or “black women” because they were just as important in this election cycle as any other demographic. And yet, the results are just as disheartening.

Link to results: https://www.google.com/webhp?sourceid=chrome-instant&ion=1&espv=2&ie=UTF-8#q=white+male

I mentioned earlier that I knew that some companies could pay to be at the top of the search results, and I believe that many people understand that fact as well. However, when it comes to normal searches for words and phrases that are common, I assume that the general population is like myself in the fact that we expect unbiased results that are most relevant to our searches. Now, Google claims that it is hard to define “most relevant” because that changes depending on who is doing the search, but their current system clearly has some improvements that need to be made.

As I mentioned before, these search results have far-reaching social and mental implications for the people they affect, and for society as a whole. Children growing up are strongly influenced by what they see on the internet, and with scholarly sources and books being used more and more scarcely these results cary more and more weight.

Google argues that its algorithms are reliable and return results that are relevant and informed by public input and data. However, it seems clear that work still needs to be done. Google has been fighting anti-trust lawsuits for a while regarding its practices, and it is difficult for regulators such as the FTC to get a grasp of what needs to be done and how it can be done fairly. This issue seems to be actively being improved, but it seems apparent that much more still needs to be done.