Are Your Google Searches Racist?

Internet users confess to Google what they wouldn’t tell anyone else — at least, according to data scientist Seth Stephens-Davidowitz, who’s combed through legions of internet searches over the past five years.

He just wrote “Everybody Lies: Big Data, New Data, and What the Internet Can Tell Us About Who We Really Are,” out last month.

“In general, Google tells us that people are different than they present themselves,” Stephens-Davidowitz tells Vox. “One way they’re different, I have to say, is that they’re nastier and meaner than they often present themselves.”

As Stephens-Davidowitz notes for The Big Think, Google Trends data suggests that Americans are more racist than we may think.

Jokes mocking black people appear as frequently as searches for the “Lakers” and “Daily Show.” Even after studying white supremacist websites like Stormfront, he’s surprised at the outlet’s popularity.

We need to stop assuming racism – and other biases — need to be overtly malicious to matter.

For one, this belief makes some people feel that they aren’t responsible. When we think of a region of the United States to call racist, many point fingers at the South, citing the Civil War, for instance.

However, as Stephens-Davidowitz says, the highest rates of racist searches were actually in the East, including western Pennsylvania, upstate New York, eastern Ohio and industrial Michigan.

This doesn’t mean that folks in other places aren’t biased against people of color. It simply means that racism exists  everywhere.

Take the Obama elections. Nearly all Americans said race wasn’t a factor in his election.

But Stephens-Davidowitz notes that Obama did worse than other Democrats in areas with higher racist searches — even when the data was controlled for polarized issues like gun control.

Similarly, he found the single best predictor of where then-presidential candidate Donald Trump performed well in the 2016 elections to be racist searches.

It’s also important to note that while most people don’t overtly target people of color, some do. Normalized racist attitudes embolden them.

Furthermore, internet searches hint to increasing violence.

Consider Islamophobia, for instance.

“The average American does not search ‘kill Muslims’ or ‘I hate Muslims,’” Stephens-Davidowitz tells Vox. “It’s a small group but it’s also an important group because these types of people can create a lot of problems.

“They are the ones who tend to commit hate crimes or even murder Muslims.”

Political scientist Jason McDaniel tells Vice that racism today manifests differently because most people agree racist views are wrong.

Even though his research relies on polls, not internet searches, McDaniel’s findings are revealing.

McDaniel notes how polls need to measure negative stereotypes about groups of color verses whites.

They need to ask questions like, ”Do you think black people are more violent than white people?” “Do you think ‘lazy,’ ‘violent,’ or ‘unintelligent’ describes black people or white people or Latinos?” or if the term “violent” describes Muslims.

They also measure “racial resentment.”

“And so racial views were not about characteristics or individual traits of black people or immigrants or what have you, but rather about how much they deserve benefits, if they should work harder and not blame society for their troubles, if they’re being discriminated against,” McDaniel tells Vice. ”There’s some debate, with some people saying that’s not racism, it’s political ideology.

“But I think the results are pretty clear—it’s connecting politics to the color of people’s skin and judging them as not worthy.”

Ultimately, McDaniel says he doesn’t think racism is worse today than in the past, but popular figures like Trump have elevated racist attitudes.

Photo Credit: GuillermoJM/Flickr

40 comments

Sarah Hill
Sarah Hill1 months ago

When did the Dems turn the tables on racism? It was the Republicans who abolished slavery, it was the Republicans that gave blacks the right to vote, it was the Republicans who passed the civil rights bill. Martin Luther King was a Republican. It was the Dems who started the KKK to fight against letting blacks have their freedom.

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David A
David Anderson3 months ago

This brings to mind several issues:

First, reading someone's mail and reading his mind are two entirely different things.

Second, if Obama received less support than other Democrats, apparently the Republican Party does not own the patent on racism.

Third, there is no accounting for the nature of the search, nor can there be. There is simply no way of knowing whether someone is searching this subject matter in order to understand it and its practitioners or he is looking for an opportunity to join the organized movement.

Fourth, there is no accounting for a certain amount of pushback when the people whose families participated in building this country since the time of the revolution or earlier are told that they are irrelevant and should be ashamed while other groups are held up and lauded for contributions which may or may not live up to the billing, and that they are somehow morally deficient on account of their lineage. Incidentally, my family never owned slaves, contributed 2 men to the Union Army, 0 to the Confederate Army, and having slavery thrown up at me because I am white absolutely infuriates me.

Fifth, we live in a society in which the truth is not tolerated. One of many negative consequences of this is that many people are not willing to say what they think in public creating this dual layer element of race relations--a sometimes significant disparity between what people profess and what they actually believe. Th

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Carl R
Carl R3 months ago

Thanks!!!

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Berny p
Berny p4 months ago

Never trust internet...you are not alone!

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Peggy B
Peggy B4 months ago

Interesting article.

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Lisa M
Lisa M4 months ago

Noted.

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Lisa M
Lisa M4 months ago

Noted.

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Margie F
Margie FOURIE4 months ago

Thank you

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Donn M
Donn M4 months ago

Interesting that this seems to be only about racism against "people of color", and not about racism coming from them. And despite what Joanne believes, anyone can be racist, it has a very simple definition that does not rely on control or power.

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Chelsea D
Chelsea D4 months ago

Most of the time I google something it's for a better understanding of a word or event in the news. I didn't know I was being judged by google for the things I didn't understand. If someone is constantly looking up something hateful or dangerous then I can see that it should raise a red flag but is google really racially profiling everyone.

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