The Reality of Search Engine Results

I recently read “Algorithms of Oppression” by Safiya Umoja Noble and it taught me a lot of hard hitting truths. For example, I learned how search engines work. Prior to reading this book I thought that the search algorithm was some sort of mathematical correlation of what people often search for. Now I understand that the algorithm sorts sites based on two criteria: how much the search engine wants it to be at the top, and how many other sites have a link to it. This means that the information that is handed out by search engines can be easily manipulated. Google sorts by what has paid them the most to be at the top, then it’s own products, and finally by what has the most outside links pointing to it — which companies can pay to have done for their sites, it’s called Search Engine Optimization and is an extremely profitable industry.

We have been socialized to believe that search engine results are credible and accurate, but that couldn’t be further from the truth. When our government, schools, hospitals, and public services all encourage us to use the internet it forces us to believe what we find on the internet is reliable and trustworthy. However, when Noble researched how Google Search serves up information on Black girls she found a beyond disturbing trend of pornographic and racist results. The ability to determine what information is credible and accurate relies heavily on the context of the situation. Search engines are fundamentally flawed because they have no way of evaluating the context of search terms.