Safiya U. Noble, Ph.D.

Safiya U. Noble, Ph.D.


“Missed Connections: What Search Engines Say About Women” (Spring 2012)

Here is an article I recently wrote for Bitch Magazine, which details the ways in which commercial search engines serve up problematic representations of women on the web. This work could be considered a the public press version of research I have been engaged in for the past two years for my dissertation at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.

In addition to reading the article, you can conduct your own searches on combined racial and gendered identities like Black girls, Latinas, Asian women, etc. and you will see not only a plethora of pornography as the primary representations of women, but you will also see a host of other stereotypes with just a smattering of information that might be helpful.

I conduct research in this area to understand how much information in the first pages of search engines are reliable or credible representations of marginalized groups — communities that have traditionally been maligned in old media traditions like television, radio and print. The Internet, as the new common medium of the United States (as declared by the FCC in 2010 in the national broadband plan), is increasingly positioned as a public good that the nation should rely upon for its communications infrastructure. Given this, it’s important to know if the information surfaced in search results can be trusted.

This article is a foray into these issues. For a more detailed account of this research, you can read my forthcoming dissertation later in 2012. You can subscribe Bitch magazine or read it here.

04/15/12 Update: after two years of research on the pornification of Black Girls in Google, and with the publication of this article, Google recently changed its algorithm and pornography is no longer the primary source of information about Black girls in a keyword search. Thanks, Google.

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