Searching For Prejudice

Tom Vanderbilt highlights an ethical problem for search engines:

A few years ago, Google faced controversy when it was revealed a search for the word “Jew” returned several anti-Semitic websites. Through brute algorithmic logic, it made sense: the sort of people who use the word “Jew” tend to have those sorts of proclivities. Now a search for that word leads in short order to an explanatory page from Google (which states, in part: “Someone searching for information on Jewish people would be more likely to enter terms like ‘Judaism’, ‘Jewish people’ or ‘Jews’ than the single word ‘Jew’. In fact, prior to this incident, the word ‘Jew’ only appeared about once in every ten million search queries”). While [Amit Singhal, a senior vice president at Google] says that “time and again we decided that Google shouldn’t intervene in the [search] process,” it is constantly shaping the world — for example, it recently struck the peer-sharing site The Pirate Bay from autocomplete — and the fact that “Holocaust denial” yields very different results than “Holocaust lie” is as much a social as a search issue.