Guest lecture sheds light on bias in search algorithms

UCLA professor Safiya Noble explained how search algorithms can be biased to privilege whiteness.

Screenshot by The Cougar Chronicle

UCLA professor Safiya Noble explained how search algorithms can be biased to privilege whiteness.

Magali Castillo, Staff Writer

Is our search engine a reflection of society? CSUSM’s latest Arts & Lectures guest Safiya U. Noble, an associate professor at UCLA, asked this question during her presentation titled Algorithms of Oppression on Mar. 11. 

One of her starting points was how Black girls are targeted in search engines because of society’s race-based sexual objectification. In Google, if one types “Black girls,” some of the first results will be of pornogrophy of Black women, said Noble.

Sexual exploitation of Black women has been a dominant narrative, where Black girls are sexualized in old versus new media like The Jezebel Whore and The Venus Hottentot

“The only way you can reproduce the enslaved labor force is through enslaved Africans, giving birth to people who then, by law are also enslaved so you have to now create a narrative that black women want to have sex all the time,” said Noble.

Noble shared the view that the tech industry is one of the industries making the most money with no form of ethics when it comes to the products it brings out into the world, and no accountability on the harm it causes. She added that for the most part, the tech industry doesn’t pay taxes and it offshores its profits.

Noble went on to suggest four things that we can do to confront and change data discrimination. First, in Big Tech organizations, be forward on critical issues of social, political research from Black/ethnic studies.

Second, incorporate the study of science and technology into the field of ethnic studies. Third, employ PhDs in Black studies (humanities and social sciences) who work on technology studies to teach in engineering and science.

Noble’s last suggestion is to launch “centers of excellence and action visible to industry, academia and the public.”

The seminar closed with questions to Noble from the audience. To learn more about Noble and her work, visit her website.

To learn about upcoming Arts & Lectures series events, visit their website.

Magali Castillo is a recent transfer student to CSUSM majoring in Literature and Writing Studies with a minor in Global Studies. She was born and raised in Los Angeles. This is her first year as a staff writer for The Cougar Chronicle. She is also a content writer for Tasteless.Studio that is based in Los Angeles. She likes to write about current events, racial injustice, mental health, and anything that is taking place in the world.