Big Tech Search Algorithms Favor Anti-Semitic Results
“It’s the algorithm,” big tech companies say. “Hey, don’t blame us. These things happen.” Companies like Amazon use an algorithm — an automatic computer formula — to determine what results appear at a top of a search. It can’t distinguish between good things and bad things.
In particular, it can’t tell the difference between anti-Semitic works and legitimate works about Jews. The result at Amazon? Some of the very worst anti-Semitic books appear first when someone searches for books about Jews.
Yair Rosenberg, writing for Tablet, discovered the problem. He decided to search Amazon for information on the Rothschilds, the Jewish family that is accused by some of controlling world affairs. At the top of the search results for “history of Rothschilds” was a book titled Planet Rothschild: The Forbidden History of the New World Order. “The Jewish banking dynasty … is a favorite bogeyman of anti-Semites and is typically used as a stand-in for the Jewish conspiracy that purportedly controls world affairs,” Rosenberg explains. The next book listed was the same kind of book, titled A History of Central Banking and the Enslavement of Mankind.
A search in Amazon for “who did 9/11” returned “Who Did 9-11? A View From Across the Pond.” It blames the Jews. The writer, Nick Kollerstrom, is a known Holocaust denier. Rosenberg quotes one of his more infamous remarks: “Let us hope the schoolchildren visitors are properly taught about the elegant swimming pool at Auschwitz, built by the inmates, who would sunbathe there on Saturday and Sunday afternoons while watching the water polo matches.” (The same search now pulls up a journalist’s book titled Perfect Soldiers: The 9/11 Hijackers: Who They Were, Why They Did It. No mention of Kollerstom’s book. The search also pulls up a “vibration reminder wristband” among the seven results.)
So a search for a subject first pulled up a book of the same title. That’s what an algorithm would do. But other examples reveal the problem even better. When Rosenberg searched for “Jews and the slave trade,” the search turned up as the second, fourth, and fifth results anti-Semitic publications from Louis Farrakhan’s Nation of Islam. Farrakhan claims that Jews were behind the African slave trade.
Google and Facebook
Google and Facebook have a bit of the same problem. A Google search for “history of Rothschilds” pulls up several results on the first page about the Rothschilds and their connection to the Illuminati. The third result is a video from YouTube also addressing that.
A Facebook search for “jews and the slave trade” turns up as the second result, “False Jews (REVELATION 2:9 and 3:9). Real ISREALITES [sic] of the bible are BLACK ex slaves of the Trans Atlantic Slave Trade living under.”
Twitter’s content is constantly being updated, so search results can change by the minute. Currently, one of the top search results for “jews and the slave trade” is this:
it was the jews(khazars) that ran the hebrew isrealites(black people) out of Isreal, through Africa and eventually cornered them in West Africa. they established and ran the "transatlantic slave trade", shipping the captured hebrew isrealites to the Americas. https://t.co/WCW7PciN7s
— Rrakgosi (@rsaweb1213) November 12, 2018
Google has made some progress fixing some of the automatic anti-Semitism. In 2016 it was discovered that when someone typed “are Jews” into Google, its autocomplete algorithm suggested “evil.” Google apologized and removed the autocomplete.
It’s one thing to go so far as to completely censor certain search results. Amazon doesn’t do that. The company received criticism in the past for stocking the anti-Semitic book The Protocols of the Elders of Zion. To resolve the conflict, Amazon posted a cautionary message from the Anti-Defamation League next to the book along with a disclaimer. This is a good compromise.
But it doesn’t go far enough. Placing books like this higher in search results for historical searches than legitimate history books about the Jews looks like bias. While the big tech companies may not consciously manipulate the search results, there is a perception that they do.
Maybe this is the one area where computers cannot replace humans. How do you train an algorithm to distinguish between legitimate Jewish history and anti-Semitic screeds? But humans program algorithms, so may account for some of the bias. They cause search results to prioritize whatever is the most popular. In late 2016, a search for “Did the Holocaust happen?” pulled up the neo-Nazi site Stormfront as the first result.
Google’s vice president of news, Richard Gingras, admitted earlier this year: “As much as I would like to believe our algorithms will be perfect, I don’t believe they ever will be.” That will be true of any automated system. The question we should ask Big Tech is: Are you doing enough to make them better? Are you willing to lose some sales to make sure you don’t promote deceitful, hateful materials?