Who suffers from Google’s Algorithms?

Nowadays, Google is a search engine that individuals often turn to under the notion that the information on the site is factual and yield search results that do not marginalize any group in particular. Most people are unaware that the information that appears on the website is a reflection of the users beliefs and that society still holds a variety of sexist ideas about women and stereotypical views about people of color. This means that the search engine is not the only issue but it serves as a platform to encourage negative outlooks on marginalized populations. Moreover, internet users who are searching on Google are the problem and minority groups are the ones who reap the negative consequences. 

Safiya Umoja Noble discusses what we see and when we see it on the search engine which represents Google’s algorithmic conceptualizations of a variety of people and ideas as a whole. Google is coupled with algorithmic practices of biasing information which is a reflection of advertising interests. This partnership and influence with advertisers makes search results inherently biased. Noble writes, “Deep machine learning, which is using algorithms to replicate human thinking, is predicated on specific values from specific kinds of people, namely, the most powerful institutions in society and those who control them.” (29). In turn, powerful people control what is produced and shown to the public for their own benefit. Often when people in power benefit from large companies like Google minorities, whether social, political, or economic, suffer and are left behind. The search results found on Google are rarely called into question and due to this most internet users have no idea how these ideas come to dominate search results on the first page. The public believes that what rises to the top of the search results is either the most popular or the most credible or both which is not always the case. It is such a scary thing to learn that Google creates advertising algorithms and not informative ones. An example in Safiya Umoja Noble includes when she discusses how Google represents women as incompetent, dependent on men, or underrepresent in the workforce. As a result, this demonstrates how the content and representation of both women and women of color in search engines is consistent with the kinds of biased ideas that live in other advertising channels. These misrepresentations become part of the cycle of oppression of already marginalized groups.

The search engine as a whole, reflects notions that are often resisted by women and people of color. Throughout this reading I have learned how Google is an intersectional power that accounts for the ways in which marginalized people are exponentially harmed by Google. Black women and girls continue to have their image and representations assaulted in the new media environments. This perpetuates the oppression and inequality that ravages underrepresented communities like women and people of color. Another interesting aspect of this article is the internet and its general association with freedom and individual choice. When search engines like Google are further analyzed in this book Noble discusses the internet is a hub of organized and scheduled content that is presented at the will of the creators and controllers of these resources. 

Instead of targeting and oppressing minorities, black women especially, it would be more beneficial to empower them to not only bring new perspectives and diversity into the tech world but also to reach a broader audience of people in a positive way. These accepted norms become so ingrained in society that people generally disregard the possibility for change. And with that mindset, these seemingly unavoidable stereotypes impacted populations vulnerable discrimination.


Discussion Questions

  • How can women and people of color benefit from becoming programmers and building alternative search engines?
  • How might those who are of color ever be able to influence or control the way they are represented on Google?
  • How can people of color/ women be misrepresented online? How can this lead to other consequences? 
  • How can teachers educate students how to look past immediate search results to find resources that are uncommonly used but still credible?

5 Replies to “Who suffers from Google’s Algorithms?”

  1. Hi Jackie,
    I enjoyed this response very much, particularly, your description of google as a tool of marginalization. You are correct in stating that google has been socially popularized and quite often revered as an infinite fount of knowledge. However, in the reading Safiya Noble argues that this knowledge is actually incredibly biased and misleading. Noble does this by evaluating in great detail the sources, by which, google relies on. Her findings reveal that the algorithm that is google relies on information from prodigious, wealthy and prominent private organizations. By making this realization, Noble insinuates that the wealthy actually control a majority of the information we receive via the internet. This implies that not only are the upper-class allowed to access more information as discussed in the previous reading, yet they control the information the middle to lower class receive and only they are deemed “reliable sources”. Contemporary learners rely on google as the forefront of their education and accept it’s credibility almost subconsciously. In your quote you mentioned that “algorithms have been made to replicate human thinking (26)”. I see this as potentially dangerous due to the fact that information spreads just as quickly and prominently as misinformation. This does not alleviate the ignorance of our society, yet it fuels the fire. This relates primarily to the TED talk we viewed on “echo chambers” which states that racist, homophobic, and prejudice comments circulate within the user’s newsfeed on social media solely because he or she chooses to support them. Likewise, if a person does not choose to support them, then they will never be aware of all the prejudice which freely permeates American culture and has done so since it was founded in 1776. Women of color face the blunt edge of the prejudice of the internet, specifically google, due to the philosophy of intersectionality in which we learned about for the first reading we were assigned. In our heteronormative culture, any deviation from the standard of being an able-bodied heterosexual white male is viewed as a social defect. The reason women of color suffer is primarily because they are neither white, nor male and therefore are unrepresented by the white males who own prosperous industries and capitalize on the spread of their ideals over others. I believe the construction of alternative search engines my help on a small-scale but it would be difficult to promote this concept globally.

  2. Hi Jackie,
    I really liked reading about your views on the reading. I really liked the point you made with googles search engine and how it discriminates again people of color and women. This was something that was very eyeopening for me. I never even thought of a search engine such as google not giving a fair amount of resources to people of color and women. I think teachers and professors have the power to be able to educate their students on subjects like this. I think this subject needs to be talked about more starting at a middle school level. It could be brought into a lesson related to finding the correct resources. Students should be taught that the immediate results aren’t the best because the top results aren’t always the most accurate or best results. There are several pages in a search engine in google, and students should be taught to go in a few pages and read each different source to get a diverse amount of information. I think students should also be taught to have several different sources that are diverse in order to promote that having similar sources isn’t always the best option. They should also be taught how to search for more diverse information in google. If a method such as this was worked on in schools, then students would have a greater opportunity to be more excepting of diverse communities as they get older.

  3. Hi Jackie great points, when i was reading i couldn’t believe how much google suppresses and exposes black women in the article it said “You should see what happens when you Google ‘black girls.’” I did and was stunned”(16) when i saw this comment i knew google was doing something wrong as a search engine and can change their algorithms in order to diversify the information given out and not give wealthier people better privilege online. google shouldn’t have to wait for people of color to be hired for them to change their algorithm they should do it anyway because it can be seen as racist i dont think this will happen anytime soon as it will take google time to change their whole search engine algorythm. people will still complain but something as complex as this will take time to be fixed which is more of the reason to start trying to reset the algorithm now.

  4. Hey Jackie!
    Wanted to say you did an awesome job making connections clear for readers of this text. This is very important because society doesn’t recognize how search engines enable the negative categorizing and marginalization of certain groups. As you highlight, minority groups are the ones who suffer when the majority of the population uses Google as the all powerful, know it all, search engine. Noble explains that the reseason search engines have these biases are because the people who created the “deep machine learning” are a specific group of people, that have similar values of the most powerful institutions above them. This results in minorities of mulitple intersectionalities are rooted negatively in these Alegotrthimis. An example of algorithms with oppression is “[T]he Google Search autosuggestions featured a range of sexist ideas such as the following… Women should not: have rights, vote, work, box… (15)” The question that sticks with me after this reading is: why don’t we teach our children that the algorithms they see as undeniably correct, have very sexist and racist ideas that get created behind the screen, yet show up for everyone to gloss by? People probably have put this idea aside because in 2011 the results for searching in “black girls” would result in multiple porn sites and over-sexualized titles for links. Now, if you type in the same keywords, Google has better results- but still not anything that important to the community other than multiple photos of beautiful black women/ “black girl beauty”. I agree with you that the norm should be changed if the norm is forming more oppression in our society and societal norms must be critically looked at.

  5. Hey Jackie!
    You did a great job in displaying your own views about the reading, as well as going in depth about Noble’s reveal of Google’s evil algorithmic patterns. The advertisements that we see on the border of websites usually have a common interest or mentions something that we have looked up in the past…but have you ever wondered, who controls that? Well the internet was first made available to upper-class white men, who controlled it then and still control it now. Noble speaks about how these powerful upper-class people who control such a widely used search engine, such as Google, only show information that is biased and deceiving to other groups of people. These people who are in charge of Google prioritizes certain information by making it appear in the first few options of a search and even in advertisements that continuously pop up. Noble makes it apparent that the upper class controls what the middle and lower class can witness on the internet, also proving that their wealth also allows them to access information that the other classes can’t see, because what they witness is unknowingly chosen for them.

    Noble mentions that Google mainly suppresses and discriminates against African American women by stating, “You should see what happens when you Google “black girls.” I did and was stunned” (16). Honestly, this is unacceptable and so surprising that a group of people can let this happen. There were uses of derogatory and disrespectful terms in the search options, which are most likely placed there by these upper class people. In order to stop targeting certain groups of people, such as African American women, there needs to be rules and regulations to Google’s information standards. We need a diverse department who takes control of information screening, who can pick and choose what information suits all genders, races, and social classes. We need an internet that we can rely on for correct and fair information, instead of being controlled by a single group of people and making certain types of people look superior to others.

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