Search and Not Find: The Problem with Prioritized Search Results

Recently, Google came under fire during the election cycle for reportedly steering users away from Hillary Clinton’s supposed criminal activity. However, this is just another instance of a widespread phenomena that is affecting and actively discriminating against minorities.

A recent piece by Safiya Umoja Noble from Bitch Magazine reported clear bias when students of color wanted to learn more about those of their culture. The students were asked to search “black girls” or “latinas” and instead of being presented with relevant articles regarding their culture and identity, they were presented with pornographic objectification of the very culture they represent.

Noble goes on to express the issue with this unfortunate reality lies in the assumption that Google is producing reliable results each time. In fact, 64% of users believe google is unbiased an accurate in the results it produces. I am even guilty of the same assumption in that I rarely look past the first page of results. It is unfortunate that so many of us hold this assumption because it only serves to perpetuate the systematic racism and sexism that is so apparent in our world today.

The average Google user most likely defines a “balanced” or “unbiased” search as presenting multiple different sources. For example if one was interested in search results concerning the election, a satisfactory result would be presentation of the same story from multiple news outlets. Yet the problem with this, as addressed by Noble in her article, is the corporitization of the news media. This makes it harder to truly find alternative sources of information, and all of the information prioritized on Google is from the major news sources. This same logic applies to all other searches, especially those like “black girls” and “latinas” being characterized by pornography sites.

When individuals hoping to understand more about their identity are flooded with pornographic and degrading representations of their culture, it plays an establishing role in determining identity. It also serves as a mold for the basis of oppression and keeping marginalized groups in less desirable positions. The results that these young girls get at such a formative time in their development serves as a significant hindrance in figuring out their own identity.

Google has recognized this problem, but unfortunately their response has been insufficient for most. In a case of anti-Semitic results being prioritized when words concerning Jewish people were entered into Google, the complex computer algorithm was blamed for producing the results. In the case of Hillary Clinton criminal activity searches, Google has defended the algorithm in that it purposely does not include offensive search terms to avoid the exact problem it is perpetuating. The issue in all of these cases boils down to who has control over the access to the information. At the end of the day, Google has a responsibility to “do no evil” and in order to do that, they must break down the barriers of systemic racism that is perpetuated by the media and by their own search results.

Active change can aid in giving marginalized groups a greater position than just pornography, and that is a very important if we want to make acutal progress as a society.

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