Algorithms of Oppression

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* Book: Safiya Umoja Noble. Algorithms of Oppression: How Search Engines Reinforce Racism. NYU Press, 2018

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Description

1. From the publisher:

"A revealing look at how negative biases against women of color are embedded in search engine results and algorithms

Run a Google search for “black girls”—what will you find? “Big Booty” and other sexually explicit terms are likely to come up as top search terms. But, if you type in “white girls,” the results are radically different. The suggested porn sites and un-moderated discussions about “why black women are so sassy” or “why black women are so angry” presents a disturbing portrait of black womanhood in modern society.

In Algorithms of Oppression, Safiya Umoja Noble challenges the idea that search engines like Google offer an equal playing field for all forms of ideas, identities, and activities. Data discrimination is a real social problem; Noble argues that the combination of private interests in promoting certain sites, along with the monopoly status of a relatively small number of Internet search engines, leads to a biased set of search algorithms that privilege whiteness and discriminate against people of color, specifically women of color.

Through an analysis of textual and media searches as well as extensive research on paid online advertising, Noble exposes a culture of racism and sexism in the way discoverability is created online. As search engines and their related companies grow in importance—operating as a source for email, a major vehicle for primary and secondary school learning, and beyond—understanding and reversing these disquieting trends and discriminatory practices is of utmost importance.

An original, surprising and, at times, disturbing account of bias on the internet, Algorithms of Oppression contributes to our understanding of how racism is created, maintained, and disseminated in the 21st century."


2. Sean Illing:

"Noble’s new book ... challenges the idea that search engines like Google provide a level playing field for all ideas, values, and identities. She says they’re inherently discriminatory and favor the groups that designed them, as well as the companies that fund them.

This isn’t a trivial topic, especially in a world where people get more information from search engines than they do from teachers or libraries. For Noble, Google is not just telling people what they want to know but also determining what’s worth knowing in the first place." (https://www.vox.com/platform/amp/2018/4/3/17168256/google-racism-algorithms-technology)


Interview

From an interview conducted by Sean Illing on April 3, 2018:

* What are you arguing in this book?

Safiya Umoja Noble: I’m arguing that large, multinational advertising platforms online are not trusted, credible public information portals. Most people think of Google and search engines in particular as a public library, or as a trusted place where they can get accurate information about the world. I provide a lot of examples to show the incredible influence of advertising dollars on the kinds of things we find, and I show how certain people and communities get misrepresented in service of making money on these platforms.


* Who gets misrepresented and how?

I started the book several years ago by doing collective searches on keywords around different community identities. I did searches on “black girls,” “Asian girls,” and “Latina girls” online and found that pornography was the primary way they were represented on the first page of search results. That doesn’t seem to be a very fair or credible representation of women of color in the United States. It reduces them to sexualized objects.

So that begs the question: What’s going on in these search engines? What are the well-funded, well-capitalized industries behind them who are purchasing keywords and using their influence to represent people and ideas in this way? The book was my attempt to answer these questions." (https://www.vox.com/platform/amp/2018/4/3/17168256/google-racism-algorithms-technology)