How would you feel if an internet search about your neurological condition produced a suggestion you be exterminated?
Autism activists have succeeded in getting Google to change the results of its automated search process so that offensive "hate speech" doesn't routinely show up as a suggested match.
Until today, typing "Autistic people should...." into Google's search engine would produce four so-called "auto-complete" suggestions: that they "be killed," "die," or "be exterminated."
In response, an autism activist group staged an online protest called a Flash Blog, which encouraged people with autism to counteract those violent suggestions with poetry and positive awareness of the developmental condition.
Another Flash Blog was scheduled for this Saturday, but Google today announced it would be cleaning up the automatic search results to eliminate results the company considers "hate speech," said Jason Freidenfelds, a company spokesperson.
"That's fantastic news," said Sparrow Jones, an Idaho autism activist who helped plan the protest. Her group had approached Google earlier, but came away empty-handed.
"They weren't dismissive. They said, 'That's unfortunate,' and shrugged," she said.
It will take some time for the change to roll out, Freidenfelds said, as it is not simply a matter of deleting certain words or phrases. A broader net must be cast to take into account the many different ways users phrase their inquiries.
The "auto-complete" function attempts to save time by suggesting the most common searches that match a user's first few words. In the case of autism, three of the four suggestions could double as bumper-stickers for hate speech.
Sparrow acknowledged the search engine algorithm isn't the problem; it is, rather, the frequency of the hostile search terms typed in by Google's users.
"What we are battling is not the computer. It's the societal attitude that produces all those searches," she said. When asked if it might be better to know those attitudes are out there, instead of having Google mask their popularity, she answered, "We don't need Google to tell us we're not terribly popular."
She cited comments made about the Adam Lanza, the assailant in the Newton, Conn., school shootings, and by extension, about anyone with any degree of autism. "They actually think that as a group of people, we could all go out and commit a crime like that," she said.
Wednesday, February 27, 2013
Posted by BA Haller at 10:22 PM