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Google France changes algorithm for ‘lesbian’ search term to show less porn

Emma Powys Maurice August 6, 2019
Google

Google banner at Berlin's annual Christopher Street Day gay pride parade. (John MacDougall/ AFP/Getty)

Google has changed its algorithm in France for the search term ‘lesbienne’ (French for lesbian) to show informative results instead of pornographic content.

Previously, the first results shown when googling the word were videos and images which sexualised lesbian women’s bodies.

This unnecessary sexualisation of lesbians has been cited as one of reasons behind the homophobic abuse many lesbian women experience — including the recent attack on a couple on a London bus.

The search engine’s algorithm has now been changed thanks to a campaign led by the Twitter account @SEO_lesbienne and French news site Numerama.

They noted that only the word ‘lesbian’ linked to sexualised pages, whereas searching for ‘gay’ or ‘trans’ displayed Wikipedia pages, articles and specialised blogs.

Numerana began investigating after seeing that the pornographic results appeared beneath Google’s special Pride banner in memory of the Stonewall riots.

After a few days the banner stopped appearing for lesbian-related search terms, and Google reportedly would not provide an explanation for its disappearance.

When questioned at a later date, Pandu Nayak, Google’s vice president of search engine quality, said: “I find that these [search] results are terrible, there is no doubt about it.

“We are aware that there are problems like this, in many languages ​​and different researches. We have developed algorithms to improve this research, one after the other.”

He noted Google’s prior issues with the words ‘girl’ and ‘teen,’ which also linked to porn sites before algorithm changes were made.

“We have taken measures in cases where, when there is a reason for the word to be interpreted in a non-pornographic way, that interpretation is put forward,” he explained, adding that such structural changes “take time.”

Google has since taken action and as of July 19, the top search results in France for the term ‘lesbienne’ are news articles and the lesbian Wikipedia page. These results will appear even if Safe Search is not active.

Google comment:

Google confirmed to PinkNews that they had developed an algorithmic improvement to change search results for the term ‘lesbienne’.

A spokesperson said: “We work hard to prevent potentially shocking or offensive content from rising high in search results if users are not explicitly seeking that content.

“As we said at the time, we recognise that our results for the query ‘lesbienne’ in French were falling short. As part of our ongoing work to improve Search, we developed an algorithmic solution so that we can deliver high quality results not just for that query, but entire classes of queries.”

 

 

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