Is Google Sexist? Female students react to ‘ludicrous’ UWash researchers

Researchers at University of Washington allege Google image search 'gender bias,' and propose several new algorithms to produce more equitable search results.

Campus Reform spoke to multiple female students to get their reactions.

Researchers at the University of Washington allege Google image search exhibits “gender bias,” proposing several new algorithms to produce more equitable search results.

The research team led by Yunhe Feng and Chirag Shah found that women are underrepresented in Google image search results for CEOs in the United States, among other job titles, specifically on the first page of the website.

Other search engines besides Google showed similar results.

“Maybe if people did scroll past the first page of search results, they would start to see more diversity in the images,” said Feng to the news release.

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The team of researchers proposed three new algorithms to “systematically” address the issue to make the results less “homogenous at the top,” including one that randomly shuffles search results, and two that strategically shuffle the results.

One algorithm factors in the item’s “relevance score,” based on how relevant a result is to the search query. The other incorporates statistics bureau data to reflect a more objective sexual makeup of the labor force in search results.

The researchers used data from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics for their study, however, they considered it a “limitation” that such data “assumes that gender is a binary.”

Campus Reform spoke to multiple female students to get their reactions. 

Ella Foulkrod, a student at the University of Arkansas, found the study and proposals “ludicrous,” and said, “If the Google search demonstrates that there have been more male CEOS in American history and currently, why try to hide that? It is statistics, numbers; nothing degrading or offensive. If women want to see more women as CEOS, then work hard and get it done!”

“Don’t gloss over the actual people who have been CEOS and dedicated their life to a company to make something seem appeasable for all crowds. Also, is this really that big of an issue that someone is proposing a complete algorithm rewrite? Doesn’t that cost lots of money?” she continued.

“I do not believe that Google is sexist,” University of Utah student Maddie Hill told Campus Reform. “I believe that Google simply shows search results to provide the most accurate information possible. The reasoning for most CEOs showing up as men may show the most wealthy CEOs, but I do not believe that this proves that women CEOs are less successful.”

“Keywords are the most important part of a Google search - meaning, if you search ‘Wealthiest Black CEOs,’ you will be presented with a list of the wealthiest, black CEOs. If you are doing a Google search for women CEOs, you will get a list of CEOs that are women,” she added.

Dallas Baptist University student Rebekah David told Campus Reform that she considers the logic behind the project flawed.

“My take on the Google image search ‘problem’ is that it is coming from an incorrect base assumption,” David said. “That assumption goes as follows ‘If you search up an image of an industry and the overwhelming majority of pictures shown are of white, cis-male ‘presenting’ humans, then there is an obvious bias which must be rectified.”

“As far as I understand,” David said, “the entire point of the alphabet soup narrative is that the way someone looks doesn’t have to match up to who they actually are on the inside, so it is a contradictory narrative for any of the individuals getting mad about this to believe that they all the sudden have the capability to determine gender identity based on a picture.”

“This is the very definition of a first-world problem,” David said. “My recommendation to those who are mad about this is to work hard and become part of whatever industry you can achieve greatness in.”

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Whitworth University Grace Stiger told Campus Reform, “As a woman, I find it offensive.” 

“If Google changes its algorithm to be more politically correct, it will push a false narrative that there are just as many women in the role as men. If there are not as many women CEOs, it is not Google’s job to make women equally represented,” said the Whitworth senior.

“Their efforts to change the perception of equality ultimately hurts their efforts because people’s perception will be tainted with lies that do not properly reflect the facts,” she concluded.

Campus Reform reached out to University of Washington, Yunhe Feng, and Chirag Shah for comment. This article will be updated accordingly.

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