Real Information or an Ad?

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In Safiya Umoja Noble’s article, “Google Search: Hyper-visibility as a Means of Rendering Black Women and Girls Invisible,” she explores the results Google provides when using “Black girls” and what this means in a historical and social context. I found Noble’s point about the distinction between real information and advertising to be particularly compelling. I recently went through an interview process with a company who aims to maximize clicks on their client’s paid ads as well as natural searches. Until learning about this process, I had no idea how search engines’ results were ordered.

The ability for companies to pay for their website to appear higher within the search results acts to bias the internet. This can be problematic, particularly for Black women as Noble pointed out or minorities more generally, as it acts to reinforce and strength the dominant political or social groups stance. The Dove commercial we saw last week in class is a prime example of this issue. If this ad was one that the company choose to pay more for it to appear higher on the search results, by nature more people would see it. This means that not only are the groups Noble mentions “highly sexualized and even stigmatized” when they are searched for directly, the normalization of racist or misogynist search results more broadly reinforces hegemonic narratives.

The financial aspect of search engines allows the engine itself to “reflect and re-instantiate the current social climate and prevailing social and cultural values.” Moreover, this major influence in how results appears adds to the cyclical nature of online racial disparities. Google, like many other search engines, denies responsibility for search results despite the fact they are not random or based upon popularity alone. However, studies such as the case of the Google searches conducted in 2011 illustrates that this is an issue of the digital age that needs to be addressed.

Posted from Intro to Digital Studies by Kat