An interesting article on Google algorithms and stereotypes recently appeared in the online journal Slate. And motivated by that piece, a little bit of experimentation by your very own Tamada found that Google makes some curious assumptions about the various peoples of the Caucasus.
The Slate story, which appeared on August 13, focused on American views about their fellow citizens living in different parts of the country, based on Google’s auto-complete function, which tries to anticipate a search-engine user’s question. To conduct the experiment, an individual inserted the name of each of the 50 American states into the following phrase: “Why is [state name] so…” and did a Google search.
Google algorithms, which take prior user searches into account, came up with some funny choices to complete the questions. For example, it prompted “Why is Illinois so corrupt,” an assumption apparently based on the recent criminal conviction of a former state governor on corruption charges, and perhaps the historical reputation of Chicago’s long-time political boss Richard J. Daley. The first response for Massachusetts, meanwhile, was why was it so “liberal.” (That one’s kind of a head-scratcher, given that former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney is now running for president as a conservative Republican, and Scott Brown, one of the state’s two senators, is a Republican.)
Tamada would like to thank a fellow blogger at Caucasus Resource Research Centers for the tip about trying the Slate experiment on the Caucasus states of Azerbaijan, Armenia and Georgia.
When the phrase “Why are Armenians so…” was entered into the Google search box, the search engine anticipated some obnoxious responses, including “so rude,” “so mean” and “so ugly.” When the phrase “Why are Azerbaijanis so…” was entered, links to the Eurovision song contest appeared prominently near the top of the page. The returns were such, that one wonders whether Azerbaijanis are somehow skewing Google’s search algorithms, akin to the way a well-orchestrated campaign in Turkey in the late 1990s manipulated a Time Magazine poll in an attempt to get Mustafa Kemal Ataturk named Man of the (20th) Century.
Given that the Republic of Georgia shares the same name as the US state of Georgia, it’s hopeless to get a Google reading on the Caucasus country. Type in “Why are Georgians … ” and Google auto-complete offered the ending “called crackers,” slang for racists.
And just for fun, Tamada typed in “Why are Russians so …” and Google’s options were “so strong,” “so tall,” “so pretty” and “so crazy.”