Dylann Roof’s Fateful Google Search

A new book explores the racial implications of the algorithms that structure our lives. When Dylann Roof murdered nine African-American churchgoers at the Emanuel African Methodist Church in Charleston, South Carolina on June 15th, 2017, the country was left wondering what factors conspired to lead a someone to commit such an atrocious act of violence. Some looked to his white supremacist roots. Others studied his psychology and his upbringing. One factor that didn’t come up, at least not in most circles: his Internet search history. Safiya Umoja Noble, author of the new book Algorithms of Oppression: How Search Engines Reinforce Racism, believes it should have. Noble offers a compelling look into the structure of digitized information—most of it driven by advertising revenue—and how it perpetuates racist assumptions and ideologies. Whereas the information age’s most common social justice ambition has been to bridge “the digital divide” between Internet access and marginalized groups, Noble, who teaches at the University of Southern California, argues that access is less important than operation—that is, how search engines (read: Google) rank the pages that respond to our queries. Dylann Roof represents perhaps her most compelling case study.* (…) Obviously, one must be careful about presuming to identify the tipping point into radicalization. But it’s hard not to invest what Roof next wrote with significant meaning: “At this moment I realized that something was very wrong. How could the news be blowing up the Trayvon Martin case while hundreds of these black on White murders got ignored?”Noble’s main question in response to Roof’s manifesto is one that did not come up during the trial, but may provide insight into the evolution of Roof’s murderous mentality: Why, when he asked Google his question, was he directed to a white nationalist website trading in vicious propaganda, rather than to accurate statistics provided by the Federal Bureau of Investigation or the Southern Poverty Law Center? Had he gone to the FBI’s webpage, he would have learned that the vast majority of violence against white Americans is committed by white Americans, and that the vast majority of violence against black Americans is committed by black Americans. Had his first hit been the SPLC, he’d have read that the Council of Conservative Citizens is “the modern reincarnation of the old White Citizens Councils,” an organization that has “evolved into a crudely white supremacist group.”

via psmag: Dylann Roof’s Fateful Google Search

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