Google is receiving intense backlash after Twitter users brought to the public's attention that the search terms "unprofessional hair" result in images of predominantly African-American women's hairstyles.
The debates began when a Twitter user named Rosalia, using the handle @BonKamona, issued a tweet Tuesday stating, "I saw a tweet saying 'Google unprofessional hairstyles for work.' I did. Then I checked the 'professional' ones."
The "unprofessional hairstyles" results showed mostly African-American women with their hair in a variety of styles, whereas a search for "professional hairstyles" showed mostly Caucasian women with smoother styles.
I saw a tweet saying "Google unprofessional hairstyles for work". I did. Then I checked the 'professional' ones 🙃🙃🙃 https://t.co/5KLg7FZ6Hq— Bonnie-Nje (@Bonnie-Nje) 1459890248.0
The initial tweet has been retweeted more than 11,000 times since it was first posted on Tuesday, and social media users immediately pounced on this comparison -- many cried "racism" and called out Google for its "racist" search engine results.
So #BlackWomen's hair is "unprofessional," & if you just bleach your skin & hair sufficiently, it's "professional"? @BonKamona— thepoliticalcat endorses Joe Biden! (@thepoliticalcat endorses Joe Biden!) 1459979161.0
Last time I checked, being black isn't unprofessional. So... The way my hair grows out of my head shouldn't be a topic of debate.— 🔮Spiritual Activist🔮 (@🔮Spiritual Activist🔮) 1459970631.0
"I'm only gonna show black people for unprofessional hair and only white people for professional hair, that'll show em"— Eric Rudkin 🍉 (@Eric Rudkin 🍉) 1460131669.0
However, it didn't take long for social media users to further investigate why the images of African-American hairstyles showed up under "unprofessional hair" search terms. When people began clicking on the individual photos themselves, oftentimes the photos linked back to articles discussing why African-American hairstyles were professional or why women's varying work hairstyles should be discussed.
"Ultimately, the algorithm is mirroring conversations about 'unprofessional hair' biases, not making a ruling," wrote Leigh Alexander for the Guardian. "In fact, just a day after Rosalia’s tweet went viral, memes about the discrepancy, screencaps of the tweet itself, and other recent related images topped the results of the Google Images search for 'unprofessional hairstyles for work.' But it still raises questions about the role of algorithms in how we use the web, and pokes a few holes in the utopian fantasy of what the internet is for."
*wears "unprofessional" hair to interview* *STILL lands the job & makes more than the rest of you "professionals"* https://t.co/p8XcUo23Fg— [PimpNamedSlickback] (@[PimpNamedSlickback]) 1459908095.0
Can an algorithm be racist? My latest for the Guardian on the whole 'unprofessional hairstyles' thing https://t.co/3vdkdfjlvi— 🌏🔎𝐿𝑒𝑖𝑔ℎ 𝐴𝑙𝑒𝑥𝑎𝑛𝑑𝑒𝑟 🐬💿✨ (@🌏🔎𝐿𝑒𝑖𝑔ℎ 𝐴𝑙𝑒𝑥𝑎𝑛𝑑𝑒𝑟 🐬💿✨) 1460108440.0
(H/T: The Telegraph)
Follow Kathryn Blackhurst (@kablackhurst) on Twitter