Are Google’s Results Biased Towards White Hands? A College Student in Stockholm Fights to Diversify the Web
Johanna Burai has addressed the lack of ethnic diversity in Google’s image results pages through her website “World White Web”
After noticing that for the search term “hand”, all of the images that populated the results page were of white persons hands, Johanna Burai decided to take a short break from her graphic design work at college in order to create World White Web.
World White Web is a site dedicated towards changing results pages for image searches for “hand” and other similar keywords, by promoting the sharing and backlinking of different images of hands from people of various ethnicities.
In Johanna’s own words:
”When you search for images of the word “hand”, all you see on Google are white hands. If we all share the images on this site, we can change the search results on Google to include hands of people of color too.”
A fight against structural racism
Johanna states that:
”I want to see a more diverse representation of the human body on Google.”
However, Johanna’s intentions come from an ideological perspective, rather than one of simply trying to improve the availability of images offered within the search results.
On her site, Johanna says:
“Whiteness is a structure, it’s a norm, it’s a institution, it’s a position of power, it’s neutral. Together we have to change the norm that leads to the homogeneous group of people practising graphic design.”
For Johanna the lack of non-white hand images in Google’s image results is a product of institutional racism; and diversifying the results page is a step towards changing people’s attitudes and perceptions for the better.
The best way to rank images in Google
Here is an example of one of the images Johanna wants to rank in Google:
The best way to rank images is to make onsite optimisations in addition to encouraging offsite backlinking and social sharing:
- Name the image appropriately to help Google understand its content
- Use Alt Attributes to help users understand content when the image does not load
- Use title tags/caption
- Provide text-rich content on the page where the image appears and wrapped around the image
- Image size – smaller and faster loading is optimal, especially for mobile devices
- Image compression – reduces file size and improves loading times
- Serve scaled images – communicate the image size to Google for faster loading times
- Don’t use stock images – create your own unique images
- Use an image sitemap
Johanna’s closing message:
“A lot of people choose to turn a blind eye to the privilege of simply being born white, as well as to the systematic racism experienced by people of color in their everyday lives.”
“World White Web is a project that brings attention to the norm of whiteness online. The purpose is to create change. The search results for “hand” is a clear-cut example of how being white is treated as the norm in society.”
World White Web does appear to achieve the goal of bringing attention to the concept of institutional racism, but is it the most effective way of doing this? As Google’s results are populated mainly by the images that are provided by stock image sites, perhaps the most effective way to improve the diversity of the image results would be to contact these major players and have them provide a more diverse range of images.
What do you the reader think? Let us know in the comments section below: