Google Autocomplete Reveals Magnitude Of Disturbing Anti-Gay Discrimination
Google's auto-complete comes in handy more often than not, but when certain phrases are entered into the world's No. 1 search engine, the completed predictions are nothing short of disturbing.
You may have noticed the U.N. Women's new campaign featuring real Google auto-complete phrases based on simple entries like "women need to," "women cannot" and "women should" floating around the social web this week. Just as shocking as the examples found in that organization's effective campaign are results that arise when "gays" are substituted for "women."
An example of auto-complete results include:
"Gays need to..."
"...be put to death"
What are we looking at here, exactly?
As you type, autocomplete predicts and displays queries to choose from. The search queries that you see as part of autocomplete are a reflection of the search activity of all web users and the content of web pages indexed by Google. If you're signed in to your Google Account and have Web History enabled, you might also see search queries from relevant searches that you've done in the past. In addition, Google+ profiles can sometimes appear in autocomplete when you search for a person's name. Apart from the Google+ profiles that may appear, all of the predicted queries that are shown in the drop-down list have been typed previously by Google users or appear on the web.
Autocomplete is the computational equivalent of the real-world smartarse who finishes other people's sentences for them. But while that smartarse may operate via hunches, autocomplete works via algorithms. Input just a few characters and the algorithm will mine through search data in order to anticipate what you're looking for, based on what other people have searched for in the past.
Autocomplete suggestions differ according to variables such as region and time, but there tends to be a degree of consistency across results. So when I replicated the UN Women campaign search terms from New York on Monday night, the top three suggestions for "Women need to…" were: "Women need to shut up," "Women need to grow up," and "Women need to know their place". Trying the term "Men need to …" generated "Men need to ejaculate", "Men need to feel needed". Oh and it seems "Men need to grow up" too. So there's one small win for gender equality.
Google has become something of the secular equivalent of a confessional box. Within the confines of a search bar you can ask questions or express opinions you would never admit to in public. Our most popular searches are, to some degree, an uncensored chronicle of what, as a society, we're thinking but not necessarily saying.
That said, are you still surprised by some of the auto-completes for the search term "gays," Instincters?