A simple Google image search highlighted on Twitter has been said to highlight the pervasiveness of racial bias and media profiling.
“Three black teenagers” was a trending search on Google on Thursday after a US high school student pointed out the stark difference in results for “three black teenagers” and “three white teenagers”.
Kabir Alli of Virginia posted a clip to Twitter of himself carrying out a straightforward search of “three black teenagers”, which overwhelmingly turns up prisoners’ mugshots.
“Now let’s just change the colour …”
He and others erupt in laughter when the result for “three white teenagers” show stock photos of smiling, wholesome-looking young people.
The tweet has been retweeted by more than 60,100 users and favourited nearly 55,500 times since it was posted on Tuesday – but Alli’s video was later reposted by World Star Hip Hop, an entertainment website with an enormous following on social media.
Alli told Guardian Australia that he had heard about the discrepancy in search results from friends. “When I saw the results for myself I was shocked.”
He said some users had responded to his tweet calling Google racist, which he said was “preposterous”.
“The results were formed through the algorithm they set up. They aren’t racist but I feel like they should have more control over something like that.”
The results reached by Alli differ to what Google Images displays for “three black teenagers” now, partly as a result of coverage of his experiment.
It follows a similar exercise by student Bonnie Kamona, who posted a screenshot of search results for “unprofessional hairstyles for work”, showing natural African-American hair.
“Professional hairstyles for work” was dominated by pictures of blonde, white women.
Kamona’s screenshot also went viral when she posted it in early April, with close to 13,000 retweets.
It follows anger over reporting of the Stanford University sexual assault case, where the picture issued of perpetrator Brock Turner was taken from his high school yearbook instead of his police mugshot.
The image showed him smiling and wearing a suit, which social media users claimed would not have been the case if he had been black.
Turner’s mugshot was only made public after he was sentenced last week.
However, the New York magazine The Cut blog reported that the mugshot was taken on the day of the hearing last Thursday, not when he was arrested. The release of the photo was at the discretion of the arresting agency. The reason for the delay was not known.
World Star Hip Hop tweeted a meme comparing the sentences handed down to a black college student and Turner to its 1.5m followers on Thursday with the comment: “What is life?”
In July last year, Google was forced to apologise after its new photo app labelled two black people as “gorillas”. The photo service automatically tags uploaded pictures using its own artificial intelligence software.
“Google Photos, y’all fucked up. My friend’s not a gorilla,” Jacky Alciné tweeted.
Shortly after, Alciné was contacted by Yonatan Zunger, the chief architect of social at Google.
“Big thanks for helping us fix this: it makes a real difference,” Zunger tweeted to Alciné.
Written by Elle Hunt, Published on the Guardian website