Muslim activism Leads to Progress with Google Search

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  • 22Sep
    2017
  • Aysha Qamar

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Muslim activism Leads to Progress with Google Search

by Tina Lapsia

We all know that Islamophobia is a rampant issue in this country, especially as seen by the discriminatory rhetoric and legislation advanced by President Trump and his supporters over the recent year.

In fact, according to a recent Vox article, the trends seen in Google searches reveal much about spikes in prejudicial behavior and the American psyche. Based on research done by author Seth Stephens-Davidowitz of Everybody Lies, it is apparent who has hateful sentiments towards Muslim based on their Internet history.

“People search things like ‘kill Muslims’ or ‘I hate Muslims’ or ‘Muslims are evil.’ These people are basically maniacs and you can actually see minute-by-minute when these searches rise and when these searches fall… [I]t’s a small group but it’s also an important group… They are the ones who tend to commit hate crimes or even murder Muslims,” Stephens-Davidowitz explained in the article.

That is why Google is actually so important to facilitating understanding and breaking stereotypes about Muslims around the world. In June, the Huffington Post released a piece highlighting the negative effects the search engine has for truly understanding Islam. The issue? When searching for specific Islamic phrases like “sharia,” “jihad,” or “taqiyya,” Google’s top results included links to Islamophobic sites run by white supremacists. Since 90% of people who run searches don’t look past the first page of hits, this can lead to an incredible outflow of misinformation.

Concerned about this issue, Oman Suleiman, a Dallas imam and founder of the Yaqeen Institution for Islamic Research, has formed a team of individuals to public accurate reports on such topics in order to influence Google’s search algorithm.

“Imam Omar Suleiman and Ali Fiaz photographed in the Yaqeen Institute for Islamic Research office in Las Colinas, Texas. Suleiman is currently the President of the Yaqeen Institute for Islamic Research and a professor of Islamic Studies at Southern Methodist University.” Both are collaborating on the Google project. Photo Source: Allison V. Smith/The Huffington Post

Although Imam Suleiman admitted he did not have the monetary power to quickly influence Google like the $57 million funding Islamophobia, he was hopeful that Google would realize the problem based on the corrections it has made in the past. “It’s a fair ask that when someone goes to Google they are not being presented with information from hate groups, and representatives of the faith, as well as respectable academics… as if they’re all on the same playing field,” he said. The company removed the autofill suggestion “are Jews evil” last year in addition to the “glitch” that tagged the term “gorillas” in image searches run for African-Americans on its photos app.

Fortunately, Google has recently taken steps in the right direction. Amid pressure from activists like Imam Suleiman’s organization and others, Google’s first page results for searches of terms such as “jihad,” “shariah,” and “taqiyya” now show mostly reputable sources for explanations of these concepts. The search engine released a statement saying, “To help prevent the spread of such content for this subset of queries, we’ve improved our evaluation methods and made algorithmic updates to surface more authoritative content.” Although such hate speech should have been filtered in the first place, this is certainly a step in the right direction for the Muslim-American community.

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