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Google's Algorithm Displays Racist Results Because the Society Is Racist ( 304

On June 6, Kabir Alli, an 18-year old in Virginia, posted a brief video of himself running a couple of quick Google image searches. First he searched for "three black teenagers" and was met with several rows of decontextualized mugshots. Then he searched for "three white teenagers" and was served up stock photos of relaxed teens hanging out in front of various plain white backgrounds. The tweet has stirred controversy, with many people accusing Google of being racist. But is that the case? Alli says that while it's Google's fault in some sense as they should have better control over the things people see, he also believes that at the end of the day, what Google shows us is a reflection of what people think. A Google spokesperson had similar things to say. Our image search results are a reflection of content from across the web, including the frequency with which types of images appear and the way they're described online. This means that sometimes unpleasant portrayals of sensitive subject matter online can affect what image search results appear for a given query. These results don't reflect Google's own opinions or beliefs -- as a company, we strongly value a diversity of perspectives, ideas and cultures.
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Google's Algorithm Displays Racist Results Because the Society Is Racist

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  • this is dumb (Score:3, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Friday June 10, 2016 @04:44PM (#52291199)

    If you just search for "three teenagers" that's fine. When you start mentioning the race in the search term, YOU are the racist.

    captcha "re-arrest". seriously wtf?

    • captcha "re-arrest". seriously wtf?

      Slashdot is racist.

    • If you search for "three teenagers", among the search results you get pictures of black teenager and white teenager mugshots, along with just normal pics of teenagers of all backgrounds. If you search for "three african american teenagers" then among the search results you get happy-looking black teenagers, and the mugshots are still in the mix.

      It occurs to me that just like 'interpreting' the Bible (or the Quoran, or whatever ancient document you care to name) you can contextualize things in such a way th
      • There is a much simpler explanation. The social economic difference between white and black people coupled with the percentage of population in English speaking countries (search terms is in English) gives the results seen due to the saturation of content available.

        Criminal elements are a small percentage of the population but when they put mugshots online, they tend to overwhelm a naturally small representation of a population.

    • Ageist! Why can't you just search for three people?
      • And you obviously hate animals, can't you just search for "three"? However I feel that some other numbers might feel left out so better to not search at all!
  • Look, I am just curious. Is there anything good about not being the "other" race? Just wnt to know.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Friday June 10, 2016 @04:49PM (#52291243)

    If you google "5 black women" you get photos of groups of black women, however if you google "5 white women" you get pictures of shoes.

    Clearly this is some sort of intentional misogy-racist commentary on the relative shoe purchasing power of ethno-genderic foot fetishists. Or something like that at least, can I have my social studies diploma now?

    • by HiThere ( 15173 )

      Odd, when I googled "5 black women" I got pictures of shoes, and when I googled "5 white women" I got a couple of pictures of shoes, but mainly pictures of white women, and one that may have been a perfume ad.

      My guess is that it reflects in some inscrutable way on your previous browsing history.

    • I got the same but for 5 white women the fourth picture was a pregnant black woman with a white guy. Weird.
  • by melted ( 227442 ) on Friday June 10, 2016 @04:49PM (#52291249) Homepage

    And black males are disproportionately represented in gangs and other criminal statistics. Notice how most of those mugshots are of black men, and pictures of women are for the most part not mugshots.

  • by __aaclcg7560 ( 824291 ) on Friday June 10, 2016 @04:51PM (#52291261)

    Everyone is a little bit racist. []

    • by tnk1 ( 899206 )

      Racism is the extension of natural instinctive discrimination against people outside your family group. Being able to instinctively know your friends from your potential foes by visual discrimination is useful.

      Unfortunately, it also leads to some pretty inaccurate conclusions about those other people, which is the genesis of some of the odder notions of racism. It is easy to fear people that you can easily discern as being different from you, and differing skin color is a very, very easy thing to identify

  • Annnnd? (Score:4, Insightful)

    by Jfetjunky ( 4359471 ) on Friday June 10, 2016 @04:51PM (#52291263)
    This just in: Search engine displays realities of life, not sugar-coated version of what we want. See other news and weather at 11.
  • by BrookHarty ( 9119 ) on Friday June 10, 2016 @04:55PM (#52291295) Homepage Journal

    Saw this video [] today, demonstrating google censoring their searches.

    Does indeed look valid.

  • by scorp1us ( 235526 ) on Friday June 10, 2016 @04:55PM (#52291307) Journal

    Clearly Kabir we are assigning a negative value to mug shots. That's a value the computer isn't trained to assign or detect. It could be that thug life and mug shots are prized, and the white people shots are "lame" and worthy of chastising, like thingswhitepeoplelike.

    This ends up being a bigger commentary on the observer and their biases rather than the neutral computer.

  • by goodmanj ( 234846 ) on Friday June 10, 2016 @05:04PM (#52291375)

    I'm sorry, isn't this completely f***ing obvious? I mean all of it, that society is racist and that Google search results reflect that racism. I don't care whether you're 18 or 80, this really shouldn't be a surprise.

  • by pipingguy ( 566974 ) on Friday June 10, 2016 @05:05PM (#52291385)
    "it's Google's fault in some sense as they should have better control over the things people see"

    No. Now fuck off. Oh shit, I guess that makes me a racist I suppose.
    • It's ok. According to the lefties and SJW scum everyone is racist now, so we're all the same. Finally we've attained equality among people all in the US. Hooray!

    • People don't like uncomfortable truths. Google ranks things based on behavioral data suggesting what you're *expecting* when you punch in a search term. That means behaviors showing "black teens" is tied in people's minds to "criminals" will naturally lead to Google showing you criminals if you punch in "black teens" as a search term. It's *disturbing* to realize many people--perhaps yourself included--readily associate black teens with criminals, and so it must be Google's fault.

      Orson Scott Card wrot

  • by frovingslosh ( 582462 ) on Friday June 10, 2016 @05:13PM (#52291443)
    It is all Google's fault that most black teenagers have criminal records, while most white teenagers spend their time hanging out around white backdrops. Lets not even think about putting the blame on those poor black children. They not only face the problem of poverty, but also the problem of childhood obesity caused by all that food stamp money. I blame Google. They should be returning search results based on how we would like the world to be, not how it is.
  • by gurps_npc ( 621217 ) on Friday June 10, 2016 @05:27PM (#52291549) Homepage

    First do the search WITHOUT the word 'three'. Suddenly you get no mugshots.

    It's the word three that's a problem. Nobody labels normal photos with the word 'three' in it. Instead, generally NEWS PHOTOS get that distinction. All the image searches you get when you do a 'three' search come from the news.

    Try searching for:
    three teenagers
    three Jewish teenagers
    three Christian teenagers
    three Indian teenagers

    When you ask for teenagers, you get a lot of black, Hispanic, and white teenagers, all mixed up.

    When you specify that you only want three black teenagers or only three white teenagers - YOU are doing a search that embodies the racism. What's wrong with the Chinese teenagers? etc. etc.

    But when racists go looking for three white teenagers, they want clean cut photos, so that's what Google gives them. When a racist goes looking for three black teenagers, they want thugs, so that is what Google gives them. When you want three Indian teenagers, you get poor people. Etc. etc. etc.

    It's all from the racism inherent in the people asking those kinds of questions, not the search itself.

  • Yes, it reflects that America (and more accurately, website and search content regarding American black people) is kind of racist -- not Google.

    Search for "Three African teenagers" and you get quite a more reasonable (similar to "Three White teenagers") result: []

    It's not some kind of huge conspiracy.
  • Google indexes what's there.

    So if "three teenagers" returns mostly white teenagers (which it doesn't by the way, at least not anymore) and "three black teenagers" returns mugshots, one should first of all wonder where these pictures come from.

    "Three teenagers" is nothing you'd expect on a Facebook page. Would you classify yourself and two friends as "three teenagers"? No, you'd call it "me 'n my bff" or similar rubbish. The only place I could think of where three teenagers would actually be called "three te

    • by PPH ( 736903 )

      Google indexes what's there.

      And for a while, when you Googled 9/11, you got page after page explaining how it was an inside job, orchestrated by the Jews. Society isn't necessarily racist. Certain groups with an axe to grind and/or an agenda have figured out how to game Google.

      • This just in: Conspiracy theorist tend to be loudmouths and link at each other's nutty conspiracy as "proof" that it's true because "he says it too".

        Guess what increases your Google rank.

  • Years ago I was playing with a personality analysis application. You answered a number of questions and it told you about your problems, yadda, yadda. Naturally it said I was insecure and a loser.

    So just for grins, I ran through it answering as I would if I were the biggest jerk I could imagine. It came back saying I was a shining example of a human being. Almost Godlike.

    I told a friend about this and she suggested I run it again with the same answers, only instead saying I was a woman. A woman giving the exact same answers was said to be a major bitch, irritating, neurotic, etc...

    The point here is that there is no truly objective Reality. Google's search engine is just software and like any other observer, interacts with what is being observed.

  • by sigmabody ( 1099541 ) on Friday June 10, 2016 @06:30PM (#52292015)

    Google results are literally the definition of not racist: they are not modifying their results or algorithm on the basis of race. The results are a reflection of prevalence and linkage of content online, which may reflect a societal racism, but even that is pretty tenuous based on the data presented. A more straightforward example is that online content is representative of statistical data, and/or societal perceptions, neither of which would indicate racism per se.

    Moreover, the suggested "fix" to have Google bias search results on the basis of race IS LITERALLY RACISM. The people calling for Google to "fix" their results to be an inaccurate representation of online data are literally calling for Google to employ racism in generating their search results. *boggle*

    I expect the twitter-verse to be stupid... but please at least try to not reflect their stupidity on Slashdot, kthanks.

  • Google isn't a news site, its search results come from an algorithm. They aren't hand-picked by employees of the company.

  • Black people make up 13% of the US population and 3% of the British population. That means there are far more white people in each population, which means far more companies potentially looking to buy images of smiling white teens. The demographic breakdown of society isn’t, in itself, racist. However, the fact that companies don’t think white people would buy their products if they had black models advertising them seems like a reflection of society’s prejudices.

    Got it upside-down again... if 3% of the population are of one ethnic group how does it make sense that in a perfectly statistically representative world that more than 3% of them would take part in modelling for stock photos... I guess blaming the photographers and people buying photos makes better headlines, truth is that in terms of proportion of stock photos there is no one to blame because there's probably nothing wrong.

    In other news photographers are not taking an equal number of photos of extremely r

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