Monday, October 24, 2011

The Racist Internet

So I've been working on a presentation about the church and postmodernism and I seem to have discovered a fairly large bias in our postmodern savior, the internet. It turns out that the default race for search engine image searches is - you guessed it - white.

I came across this as I was searching for images for my presentation. As I searched Google for images I began to notice that all of the people in my searches were white. Now, I realize that postmodernism is a very white (and predominately male) phenomenon. But I was not always searching for specifically postmodern people/things/ideas. Hence, it came as a surprise to me to realize that all of my search results were predominately white. Check out some of these searches and image results.

First, I searched for "Postmodern" and got a random array of images:
Later, I searched for "Health Magazine" and got a nice survey of smiling, white faces:
After that I searched for "iPhone Users" and got this:
I also searched for "Mens Health"...

As I began to notice the trend I decided to go a bit more generic to see if Google's bent was verifiable or not. So I searched for something vague and universal: "woman jogging."
Uh oh. Bent confirmed. So I tried "Man jogging" ...
Apparently only white men and women (and Barack Obama, the only black man many white people know) enjoy jogging.

What about kids? I tried "boy eating" and "girl eating." All white:

OK. So there is clearly a white bias for Google. What about Yahoo!? I tried the same searches at Yahoo! and discovered the same results.

"Woman Jogging" -
"Man Jogging" -
"mens health" -
"Womens Health" -
"Boy Eating" -
"Girl Eating" -

All of this is both fascinating and sad. I find myself wondering two things: Why haven't I noticed this before? And, How would I feel if I wasn't white? I imagine that it would be quite strange if every time I searched for images on the internet I was greeted with images of black women and men (or Arab or Chinese, for that matter). This bias is a cogent reminder that in a world that claims to have left racism in 1964, we still have a long way to go.

I invite you to do your own internet searching and see what turns up.* If, like me, you discover a racial bias, ask yourself how it might feel to be on the other side of your race.

*Beware that image searching is a dangerous endeavor and you may encounter images that you do not wish to see. Check the "Safe Search" settings in your search engine to limit any unwanted images.

1 comment:

  1. Josh!!!! you are soo funny but you are right there is a bias...Try to do the same experiment using google's version in other countries like or ...who knows_Bobby