A Virginia teenager posted a video entering nearly identical search terms in Google Images that yielded very different results. In a Twitter video posted June 6, Kabir Alli searched “three black teenagers” and then looked up “three white teenagers.” The first search produced many mug shots of Black male teens, but the second revealed stock photos of smiling white youths. The tweet went viral, and today it has more than 64,000 retweets and 54,900 likes.
YOOOOOO LOOK AT THIS pic.twitter.com/uY1JysFm8w
— jorge GARBajosa (@iBeKabir) June 7, 2016
Eighteen-year-old Alli told USA Today he was “nothing short of shocked” when he saw the search outcome.
“I understand it’s all just an algorithm based on most visited pages, but Google should be able to have more control over something like that.”
It turns out Google’s search outputs simply reflect the photos available online, and that includes how often certain images show up on the Web and their descriptions. The result is that “sometimes unpleasant portrayals of sensitive subject matter online can affect what image search results appear for a given query,” the company said in a statement to the website.
But Alli, a senior at Clover Hill High School in Midlothian, Virginia, believes Black teenagers making “poor choices” is a big part of the problem.
“If we don’t want that image we need to work to change it,” he told USA Today. “It shouldn’t be so difficult to find normal non-offensive pictures of three black teenagers. That search sort of portrays us as a whole, and those pictures are not us. We have a lot to offer, and that search does not do us any kind of justice.”
Still, computers can only be as wise as the people who build them. Case in point is the chat bot produced by Microsoft that miserably attempted to capture the so-called typical teenage girl’s snarkiness and wit. Atlanta Black Star reports the artificial intelligence named Tay was supposed to engage in knowledge-increasing conversation with users online. Instead, she was removed for “upgrades” after racist users who interacted with her gave her information to spew equally racist and misogynistic messages.