DHN Lecture: Safiya Umoja Noble “Algorithms of Oppression: How Search Engines Reinforce Racism” January 29, 2019

Safiya Umoja Noble

Safiya Umoja Noble

Abstract

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.

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 colour, specifically women of colour.

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, Noble contributes to our understanding of how racism is created, maintained, and disseminated in the 21st century.

Biography

Dr. Safiya Umoja Noble is an Associate Professor at UCLA in the Departments of Information Studies and African American Studies, and a visiting faculty member to the University of Southern California’s Annenberg School of Communication. Previously, she was an Assistant Professor in Department of Media and Cinema Studies and the Institute for Communications Research at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. In 2019, she will join the Oxford Internet Institute at the University of Oxford as a Senior Research Fellow. Noble is the co-editor of two books, The Intersectional Internet: Race, Sex, Culture and Class Online and Emotions, Technology & Design, and the author of a best-selling book on racist and sexist algorithmic bias in commercial search engines, entitled Algorithms of Oppression: How Search Engines Reinforce Racism.

Jackman Humanities Building, Room 100A, 170 St. George Street – 29 January 2019, 4-6pm.

Registration is mandatory for catering purposes. Registration is open on our EventBrite page.