Algorithms of Oppression
How Search Engines Reinforce Racism
Published by: NYU Press
256 pages, 152.00 x 229.00 mm, 56 black and white illustrations
- ISBN: 9781479837243
- Published: February 2018
A revealing look at how negative biases against women of color are embedded in search engine results and algorithms
Run a Google search for “black girls”—what will you find? “Big Booty” and other sexually explicit terms are likely to come up as top search terms. But, if you type in “white girls,” the results are radically different. The suggested porn sites and un-moderated discussions about “why black women are so sassy” or “why black women are so angry” presents a disturbing portrait of black womanhood in modern society.
In Algorithms of Oppression, Safiya Umoja Noble challenges the idea that search engines like Google offer an equal playing field for all forms of ideas, identities, and activities. Data discrimination is a real social problem; Noble argues that the combination of private interests in promoting certain sites, along with the monopoly status of a relatively small number of Internet search engines, leads to a biased set of search algorithms that privilege whiteness and discriminate against people of color, specifically women of color.
Through an analysis of textual and media searches as well as extensive research on paid online advertising, Noble exposes a culture of racism and sexism in the way discoverability is created online. As search engines and their related companies grow in importance—operating as a source for email, a major vehicle for primary and secondary school learning, and beyond—understanding and reversing these disquieting trends and discriminatory practices is of utmost importance.
An original, surprising and, at times, disturbing account of bias on the internet, Algorithms of Oppression contributes to our understanding of how racism is created, maintained, and disseminated in the 21st century.
"Safiya Noble has produced an outstanding book that raises clear alarms about the ways Google quietly shapes our lives, minds, and attitudes. Noble writes with urgency and clarity. This book is essential for anyone hoping to understand our current information ecosystem." ~Siva Vaidhyanathan,Author of The Googlization of Everything — and Why We Should Worry
"Noble demolishes the popular assumption that Google is a values-free tool with no agenda...She astutely questions the wisdom of turning so much of our data and intellectual capital over to a corporate monopoly.Nobles study should prompt some soul-searching about our reliance on commercial search engines and about digital social equity." ~STARRED Booklist
"A good read for anyone interested in how bias can be expressed by lines of code. Even those already familiar with the issues will find new insight in the connections and impact Noble outlines. The book is accessible even to those who are not well-versed in the technology of search engines." ~The International Journal of Information, Diversity, & Inclusion
"All search results are not created equal. Through deft analyses of software, society, and superiority, Noble exposes both the motivations and mathematics that make a & technologically redlined internet. Read this book to understand how supposedly race neutral zeros and ones simply dont add up." ~Matthew W. Hughey,Author of White Bound: Nationalists, Antiracists, and the Shared Meanings of Race
"Nobles thesis is a new tune in the ever-louder chorus that, in light of the dominance of the big tech companies, is singing for 'protections and attention that work in service of the public'." ~The Financial Times
"[P]resents convincing evidence of the need for closer scrutiny and regulation of search engine[s].A thought-provoking, well-researched work." ~Library Journal
"Noble makes a strong case that present technologies and search engines are not just imperfect, but they enact actual harm to people and communities." ~Popmatters.com
Algorithms of Oppression succeeds as a critical intervention, one with a clear commitment to engaged scholarship that should lead to policy changes as well as changes in a field too white, American and male. For readers of this journal, the book is a powerful example of the vital contributions of Black Feminist
Technology Studies... Noble demonstrates that engaged, intersectional and accessible writing can and indeed does make a difference.
" ~The International Journal of Press/Politics
"Noble offers a compelling look into the structure of digitized informationmost of it driven by advertising revenueand how it perpetuates racist assumptions and ideologies." ~Pacific Standard
"Algorithms of Oppression offers a sobering portrait of the impact of our reliance on quick, freely accessible searches. Foregrounding her discussion in the context of the technological mechanisms and decision‐makers that drive results, Noble forces the reader to confront the rarely discussed risks and long‐term costs associated with easy‐to‐access, corporate‐sponsored information." ~Teachers College Record
"50 Best Book of 2018 So Far, "There's been a growing swell of concern in the academic community about the stranglehold that commercial (for-profit) search engines have over access to information in our world. Safiya Umoja Noble builds on this body of work...to demonstrate that search engines, and in particular Google, are not simply imperfect machines, but systems designed by humans in ways that replicate the power structures of the western countries where they are built, complete with all the sexism and racism that are built into those structures." ~Popmatters.com
"Algorithms of Oppression shines a light not only on the way that new technologies both reaffirm hegemonies of the past and impose constraints on our futures, but also on how we ourselves are interpellated daily and voluntarily into these algorithmic processes." ~This Year’s Work in Critical and Cultural Theory
"Often assumed by both developers and the general public to be value-neutral, the algorithmic structures through which human beings create, organize, and access content online are, Noble effectively argues, inescapably shaped by the logics of oppression that shape our interconnected lives … Algorithms provides a strong introduction, with concrete and replicable examples of algorithmic oppression, for those beginning to think critically about our internet-centric information ecosystem. For those already steeped in the rapidly growing literature of critical librarian and information studies, Algorithms will be a valuable addition to our corpus of texts that blend theory and practice, both documenting the problematic nature of where we are and the possibility of where we might arrive in future if we fight, collectively, to make it so." ~New England Archivists
"Algorithms of Oppressionis a wakeup call to bring awareness to the biases of the internet, and should motivate all concerned people to ask why those biases exist, and who they benefit." ~New York Journal of Books
"Safiya Nobles compelling and accessible book is an impressive survey of the impact of search and other algorithms on our understandings of racial and gender identity. Her study raises crucial questions regarding the power and control of algorithms, and is essential reading for understanding the way media works in the contemporary moment." ~Sarah Banet-Weiser,Author of Authentic™: The Politics of Ambivalence in a Brand Culture
"Noble argues...that the web is ...a machine of oppression...[Her] central insight - that nothing about internet search and retrieval is political neutral - is made...through the accumulation of alarming and disturbing examples. [She] makes a compelling case that pervasive racism online inflames racist violence IRL." ~Los Angeles Review of Books
"A distressing account of algorithms run amok." ~Kirkus Reviews
"Rather than being a neutral arbiter that sorts content by quality, Noble argues that search engines are easily gamed in ways that reflect discriminatory practices. Even without malevolent actors, search engines may be perpetuating racist stereotypes." ~Chicago Tribune
"Nobles incisive work centers around the fact that, at present, Googles search engine promotes structural inequality through multiple examples and that this is not just a & design problem but an inherent political problem that has shaped the entirety of twentieth-century technology design. In addition to her illustrative examples and incisive criticism, Noble offers practicable policy solutions." ~Metascience
"In Algorithms of Oppression, [Noble] offers her readers a lens to discover, analyze, and critique the search engine algorithms that perpetuate stereotypes and racist beliefs[This] book will be of great interest to academic librarians who teach information literacy courses, as well as students and faculty in computer science, ethnic studies, gender studies, and mass communications." ~Choice