Google Equates Black Girls With Sex; Why?

The search engine's profit motive doesn't always work in the best interests of women of color.

Generic image (Monkey Business/Thinkstock)

(The Root) -- Ever do a search in Google and get back some crazy result you weren't expecting?

A few years ago, I did a Google search on the term "black girls" to assist my nieces and stepdaughter in some stuff for school. What was the first search result?

I was horrified. But I was also curious about why this kind of material was most representative of black girls. As a researcher and educator, I knew there had to be more to this phenomenon. I kept collecting searches. That was in 2010.

By 2011, I was conducting a study about Google search to figure out how and why it is that women are hypersexualized in search engines. At that time, when I did a search on the term "black girls," the No. 1 hit was, followed by more porn sites and a rock band of white guys from the United Kingdom using the name "Black Girls." After the page jump below (click on the number 2) is a not safe for work partial screenshot from Sept. 18, 2011:


The first page of search results are the most important, because research shows that most people don't go much further. In my study, only one resource out of 10 was an empowerment-oriented organization: Black Girls Rock! And the ads down the right -- from which Google makes most of its money -- were sexually explicit. What was clearly missing on the first page of the search in 2011 was content focused on the educational achievements, interests or social success of black girls. Even fashion, games or entertainment targeted toward black girls did not get much priority on the first page.

And what about the two famous black girls in the White House for the past four years? Nope. Absent from the first page, too.

In other words, Google, in one algorithmic click, had made black girls synonymous with sex.

This bothered me. I wrote about this issue for Bitch magazine in the spring of 2012 because it was time to have a frank discussion about what happens to girls and women in search engines. Shortly after that, the results on searches for black girls changed.