Friday, March 8, 2013

Google's "Autism" Fix: Good or Bad?

My friends and I used to do it all the time in middle school: type the beginning of a phrase into Google search and see what results Google suggested. We were curious, and often the results were funny and entertaining. But this week, Google has been making a few changes within their auto-complete search function after a group of autism activists blogged about the offensive nature of the search engine in regards to autism.

Last week, if you had typed “Autistic people should” into the Google search engine, the following suggestions would have appeared:
Autistic people should be killed
Autistic people should die
Autistic people should be exterminated
Why autistic people shouldn't have children
Now, however, the results are slightly different. They're milder, perhaps, and certainly less violent. It's a big move for Google, since changing the search results means more than just deleting a word here and there or blocking a phrase from appearing. The computer's algorithm must be altered to encompass a variety of potential search words, so it's a timely process. But in the eyes of many activists and the national group, Autism Speaks, the time taken to make these changes is well spent.

While it is nice to not tempt those curious internet surfers into clicking on suggested searches that could lead to hateful websites, there are a few other sides to this issue. Fifteen-year-old autism activist, Sam Gelfand, believes that Google's adjustment is not necessarily a good thing.

“They’re trying to protect people from hate speech, but it’s almost a form of censorship,” he says. “In my personal opinion, everyone should be able to hear both sides of an issue.” Granted, Google's changes do not prevent users from searching for specific phrases, but giving an altered view of what people commonly search for online is, in a way, dishonest. Don't people have the right to know what is really going on? It may not be pretty, but knowing that these violent phrases are commonly searched can be helpful in the movement to change people's opinions about the developmentally disabled. Hiding the problem is not a solution. Additionally, as Gelfand goes on to suggest, the popularity of these searches can be partially attributed to curious people (like me and my friends back in middle school) who click on the suggestions, increasing their popularity.

Another perspective calls people to consider whether Google's change gives special treatment to people with autism. After all, many other groups of people, like African Americans, Muslims, Jews, men, and women, yield similarly violent and hate-driven search suggestions. So in the fight to accept people as people, not as people with autism and people without, does it make sense to make exceptions?

Or was Google correct in its move to change its auto-complete search suggestion policy? All sides pose compelling arguments. What is your opinion on this? I think it's both interesting and important since Google is such a powerful entity in our culture. Share your thoughts!

1 comment:

  1. It is possible to intelligently express negative
    ideas without violence! Grow up people.