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Terms of hate taint Google searches

Sydney Morning Herald

Monday February 21, 2011

Megan Johnston

INTERNET users who search online using keywords related to religion, gender or nationality may be in for a nasty surprise.Racist and sexist stereotypes are spreading on the web via Google's "autocomplete" function, despite steps the search engine has taken to limit inappropriate content.The feature, which is designed to streamline internet research, suggests a drop-down list of search phrases based on other users' online activity. Other online platforms and programs use similar technology.Terminology that refers to a person's faith, ethnic group or sexuality sometimes leads to potentially offensive suggestions in Google's search bar.Typing in certain phrases that mention the word women, for example, prompts search queries that advocate violence against females; "Chinese people" brings up xenophobic fears and "Jews" leads to highly offensive comments about the Holocaust.An anti-racism campaigner, Alex Gollan, said that while the technology was a legitimate research tool it might also perpetuate prejudice by encouraging users to look up inflammatory material. "A lot of people sit around on Google when they're bored and [click on] whatever stands out as being the most antagonistic," said Gollan, who created the Facebook group Australians Against Racism and Discrimination.Kevin Dunn, a professor and lead researcher on the 14-year Challenging Racism project at the University of Western Sydney, said the technology could also legitimise narrow views held by a minority."If people who have negative views about a given group feel like their views are in the majority, they feel much more emboldened to articulate those views or take some sort of nasty action."Governments should pressure online platforms to share data with authorities and researchers, who could use the information to combat racism, he said.A spokeswoman for the federal Minister for Communications, Stephen Conroy, said there were several mechanisms to prevent cyber racism. Serious forms may be a criminal offence, prohibited by the Australian Communications and Media Authority under the online content scheme or subject to action by the Australian Human Rights Commission under the Racial Discrimination Act.Google would not comment on specific autocomplete examples but said that the feature aimed to objectively reflect the content of the web, including objectionable material. But company policies allow hate speech to be removed."We take these issues very seriously and encourage users to report search queries that may violate our policies," it said.Maureen Dowd Page 11

© 2011 Sydney Morning Herald

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