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Screengrab via Google

Googling ‘three black teenagers’ does not end well

The results are a little jarring.


Jaya Saxena


Posted on Jun 8, 2016   Updated on May 26, 2021, 3:45 pm CDT

It’s time again to bring you news from the “Google is racist” files. In Part 12,485, Google has very different image results for a search for “three black teenagers” vs. “three white teenagers.”

When we recreated the experiment on our own computer, we got the same results. A search for “three black teenagers” brought up mugshots for the first images, while “three white teenagers” brought up stock images of adolescents having fun—and one image of a white teen who went “hunting for black people” and was sent to jail.

Screengrab via Google

Screengrab via Google

A search for a simple “three teenagers” also yielded mainly stock photos of white people, and also mugshots of three white boys, signifying that sans any racial specifications, users’—and perhaps Googles algorithms’—idea of “people” is white people. Users have to type in “three black teenagers stock photo” to get those specific images.

This is far from Google’s first rodeo when it comes to racist image search results. Recently, a search for “professional hair” yielded only white people, while one for “unprofessional hair” came up with only black people. Google Photos also accidentally labeled black people as gorillas.

At the time of the “professional hair” story, someone with the company said that image results only reflect what keywords are associated with the images on the internet, not with Google’s political views. But strangely, Google search results for “three black teenagers” does not bring up only stories about three black teens committing crimes. There are stories about that, but also about white teens attacking black teens, and news about teens in general where “black” is used as a descriptor for something else.

Similarly, a web search for “three white teenagers” brings up stories like white Michigan teens thinking black people should be enslaved and teen birth statistics. The images don’t fit the accompanying news, so maybe Google needs to rework that algorithm—at least to show teenagers aren’t white until specified otherwise.

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*First Published: Jun 8, 2016, 10:57 am CDT