The internet, as we know it today, is a place that can be divided over just about any topic, whether it be regarding the economy, society or unsurprisingly, politics. It seems anything can be viewed through one of these regards no matter if it was intended to be or not. The search term that I chose was “Long Island”. Long Island was the first thing that popped into my head because its where I’m from and it always sparks up conversations whenever it’s mentioned in public. I wasn’t entirely sure what results I was going to get, but I was confident there would be some good results. Long Island is known for many different things, which depending on who you ask, could be good or bad. The differences between results should be able to give us good information about the search engines themselves and about the people who use them.
To obtain my results, I used a combination of searches from Google, Bing, and Yahoo. Something I was not aware of was how the “algorithms” that drive these engines work. In the Introduction of Algorithms of Oppression, Safiya Umoja Noble clears up a misconception that the algorithms used are strictly mathematical. She reminds us that humans are still behind everything and hold their own values, which leads to oppression and unneutral results. What I discovered was that these popular search engines were similar in some respects, but at the same very different from each other. The most popular autosuggestions, that stayed constant between search engines, were “Why is Long Island called Long Island”, “Why is Long Island so expensive” and something to do with political viewpoints on the Island. These results did not surprise me too much as Long Island isn’t considered an island at all, most of Long Island is known to be expensive and politics in all areas are debated constantly. Although the results I came across were “good” as a whole, there was one negative I found. In my Yahoo results there was a suggestion that read, “Why is Long Island racist”. Why did the algorithm at Yahoo decide to keep this in the suggestions, while the other search engines seemingly kept all their results positive.
The results from my “Long Island” searches revealed a lot about the culture surrounding the area. First, the majority political standing on Long Island seems to be more conservative from the autosuggestion, “Why is Long Island conservative”, stemming from both Bing and Google. Another autosuggestion that revealed something was “Why is long Island so expensive”. Reading this, one would expect Long Island to be wealthy and maybe even more exclusive compared to other places. Being from Long Island, this is true for a lot or areas, but there are some places that are affordable. Lastly, there were multiple suggestions referring to Long Island iced tea and why its named that. After doing some research on it, Long Island iced tea is simply called that because it was first made there.
After my research into search engines, I realized there was a lot more than meets the eye. There is way more bias and oppression than I ever realized. I would never pay attention to the autosuggestions in the past but reading them revealed another level to the search.
Noble, Safiya. Algorithms of Oppression. New York: NYU Press, 2022.