Google Search Discriminates

jimmy kimmel

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During a segment called “Kids Table”, Jimmy Kimmel, the popular comedian and late-night host of “Jimmy Kimmel Live!” asked three kids how the U.S. should handle its $1.3 trillion debt to China. One kid suggested, “Kill everyone in China!” Instead of pointing out that is not a good idea, Kimmel responded, “That’s an interesting idea!” Kimmel later asked these kids whether they should allow Chinese people to live. ABC didn’t censor or cut “Kill Everyone in China” to avoid controversy, but put this remark on air on Oct. 16. Kimmel’s response and ABC’s practice upset many Chinese and sparked protests in mutiple cities. Jimmy Kimmel never expected to become famous overnight in the Chinese community in this way. Kimmel’s controversial response to “Kill Everyone In China” has led to an angry uproar among Chinese Americans.

When the news had just come out, I searched the key word “Jimmy Kimmel” on Google Search. The Google Autocomplete suggested a relation between “Jimmy Kimmel” and “Chinese” at that time. When I searched “Jimmy Kimmel” again for this blog, the phrase no longer appeared even though the protests of Jimmy Kimmel Live were still going on. However, as I searched “Jimmy Kimmel” on Google Hong Kong, the result was quite different from Google US. “Jimmy Kimmel” was mostly related to “Chinese” or “Kill Everyone in China.”

I interact with the Google Autocomplete several times a day and I rarely consider the mechanics behind it. My blog here is showing you how search engines such as Google Search play down minority’s voice and amplify majority’s voice by filtering and suggesting certain information.


Google US and Google HK/Screenshot on Dec. 5

The Autocomplete function of Google Search predicts and completes the search phrase by offering multiple query phrases as we start typing in the first words of our search into the search box. According to the autocomplete FAQ page, the search queries that we see as part of Autocomplete are a reflection of the search activity of users and the content of web pages indexed by Google. That is to say, the result of the Autocomplete is based on certain phrases’ frequent usage in searches and web pages.

    The contrast of Google US and Google HK’s result implies search engines’ role in narrating a new story about race by filtering certain information. As the relation between “Jimmy Kimmel” and “Chinese” no longer exists, people will not relate Jimmy Kimmel to the Chinese. In this way, it is likely that people will not relate Jimmy Kimmel to his racial comments and pay less attention to Chinese people’s protests.

People with cultural capital are able to play down minority’s voice to their advantage. According to Google Manage Online Reputation, the Google Search is able to manage online reputation by removing unwanted content and the associated search result. I speculate how much effort the Public Relation team of ABC has put in removing the relation between “Jimmy Kimmel” and “Chinese” so that we won’t think about Jimmy Kimmel’s racial comments and Chinese people’s protests. We are gradually letting technology such as the Autocomplete finish our thought processes for us..

      Search Engines such as Google Search don’t just play a role in filtering certain information but also suggesting certain information. Recently, The United Nations Entity for Gender Equality and the Empowerment of Women (UN Women) used the Google Search Autocomplete function in an ad campaign to highlight discrimination against women. The campaign placed autocomplete results over Women’s mouths. By searching “Women shouldn’t…” and “Women should…” we can get autocompleted sentences such as “Women shouldn’t have rights” and “Women should stay at home”. This campaign reveals widespread gender prejudices. This campaign made me wonder whether there is also discrimination against race.


Google/Screenshot on Dec. 5

The result is quite shocking. I am stunned by how negative these autocompleted phrases are. This autocompleted information can mislead some people and have a negative influence on society. Since the Autocomplete completes the phrase, it potentially has a negative influence on how people think about other races. For example, people might associate Asians with the phrase “Asians should go back to Asia” even though they might never have thought of that before. Since the Autocomplete is based on web popularity, it reveals deep-seated prejudices. In the search bar, people can ask any question or express their opinions that they won’t express in public. To some degree, the Autocomplete reflects what we’re thinking as a society and reflects what the majority thinks. Minority’s voice and their struggles are ignored.

    While many of us interact with Google’s autocomplete feature several times a day, we rarely consider the mechanics behind it. We see Internet as an equitable space where every race’s voice can be heard. However, search engines such as the Google Search are playing down minority’s voice or and amplifying majority’s voice for us but we never think about that. Some people argue we are past race and we are in a post-racial society, but there is still a far way to go to work on racial equality not only offline but also online.

— By Xiaoyun (Michelle) Zhang


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