Google Modifies Autocomplete Function After it is Found to Offer Wildly Anti-Semitic Suggestions (UPDATE)
by Dovid Efune
Try typing “Jews should” into the Google search bar, and the tech giant’s autocomplete function will present you with an array of wildly anti-Semitic options, The Algemeiner has learned.
“Jews should be wiped out,” and “Jews should get over the Holocaust” are among the offensive popular searches listed, along with “Jews should all die,” and “Jews should apologize for killing Jesus.”
E-commerce executive, civil rights activist, and Algemeiner blogger Eli Federman alerted The Algemeiner to the troubling discovery. He said he was prompted to experiment with the search after reading a Mashable article about a UN Women advertising campaign that features screenshots of sexist Google autocomplete suggestions prompted by the search “women should.”
“I was deeply disturbed,” Federman said of the discovery. “What surprised me most was the theological anti-Semitic result where the search ‘Jews should…’ auto-populated ‘Jews should be perfected,’ echoing old notions that Jews can only be complete by accepting Jesus and rejecting traditional Judaism.”
Jewish rights groups expressed concern, although not surprise, about the findings. Rabbi Abraham Cooper, Associate Dean at the Simon Wiesenthal Center, told The Algemeiner that he hoped the discovery would “wake up everyone in our community to understand how much effort bigots and racists put into the internet.”
He called for Google to figure out a solution to the problem, saying that the company has a “responsibility” to “take a look at their system or remove the entire (autocomplete) service from the users.”
It is a reminder, Cooper said that “there are responsibilities that come along with all the bells and whistles and the profits.”
Deborah Lauter, a Civil Rights Director at the Anti-Defamation League, pointed out that the issue is not confined to Google, or for that matter to Jews and Women. Other search engines including Yahoo and Bing produce similar results, and entering searches for gays or blacks can also elicit hateful autocomplete suggestions, she said.
“The issue of hate on the internet is global and is growing and is a big concern” Lauter told The Algemeiner.
“We will certainly flag it for them and we hope that they will be responsive” she said, adding, “Our hope is that the community, and anyone that sees these results will similarly flag it because the companies want to see communities engaged in the fight.”
“They are as overwhelmed by this as we are,” Lauter concluded, “and they are looking for thoughtful solutions.”
On its website, Google claims that it has no oversight over the autocomplete results, and explains that the “Autocomplete predictions are algorithmically determined based on a number of factors (including popularity of search terms) without any human intervention.”
“It is, in many ways, a neutral reflection of society,” Chis Taylor of Mashable writes.
But Google also claims that it does step in to moderate the autocomplete results in certain cases. “While we always strive to reflect the diversity of content on the web (some good, some objectionable), we also apply a narrow set of removal policies for pornography, violence, hate speech, and terms that are frequently used to find content that infringes copyrights,” the company writes on its support pages.
“Google may be violating its own policies by not excluding these flagrantly anti-Semitic search queries,” Federman said, citing the company’s stipulation. He would not, however, like to see the autocomplete results censored. “The best answer to false speech and hate speech is not censorship, it is truthfulness. Exposing the truth that anti-Semitism and sexism are alive and well is a good thing,” he opined.
Last year, Google faced legal action in France over its autocomplete function. The company was sued by six anti-defamation groups “who argued that Google was unintentionally breaking the law with its suggested search results that offered ‘unsolicited and almost systematic association’ of the word ‘Jew’ with well-known politicians, media personalities and business people,” PC Mag reported.
Google did not immediately respond to The Algemeiner’s request for comment.
UPDATE: Hours after the publication of this article, The Algemeiner was informed that Google had modified its autocomplete function to exclude the most offensive anti-Semitic suggestions.
All the suggestions that refer to killing Jews appear to have been removed, as has the “Jews should be perfected” suggestion.
The Anti-Defamation League told The Algemeiner that they were told by Google late Tuesday that the company was “looking into the complaint.” By Wednesday afternoon the changes had been made.
“We were pleased that they had removed some of the most offensive auto-correct results,” said the ADL’s Deborah Lauter.
Praising the company Lauter said that “Google is very responsive.”
“It takes the problem of hate on the internet seriously, and they are looking for ways to address it,” she said.