A new ad campaign by Memac Ogilvy & Mather Dubai developed for U.N. Women, however, reveals a darker side to the world’s most popular search terms when they include the word “women.”

“When we came across these searches, we were shocked by how negative they were and decided we had to do something with them,” Christopher Hunt, Ogilvy & Mather art director said in a statement.

Hunt and his team used searches from March 3, 2013, to display some of the oldest and most destructive attitudes toward women that come up as common browsing queries.

For example, if you type in, “women need to,” one of the top responses is still, “know their place,” and “shut up.”

2013-10-22

Co.Exist

The World’s Google Searches Reveal Our Secret Horrible Attitude Toward Women

These ads for U.N. Women show what happens if you type things like "women need to" into Google. The autocomplete function will suggest ways to fill in the blank based on common search terms such as "know their place" and "shut up."

We all know that Google Autocomplete functions something like a collective id, or perhaps a drunken friend who shouts out embarrassing stories about everyone in the room at a party. A new ad campaign by Memac Ogilvy & Mather Dubai developed for U.N. Women, however, reveals a darker side to the world’s most popular search terms when they include the word “women.”

“When we came across these searches, we were shocked by how negative they were and decided we had to do something with them,” Christopher Hunt, Ogilvy & Mather's art director, said in a statement.

Hunt and his team used searches from March 3, 2013, to display some of the oldest and most destructive attitudes toward women that come up as common browsing queries. For example, if you type in, “women need to,” one of the top responses is still, “know their place,” and “shut up.” Type in “women shouldn’t,” and Google Autocomplete suggests women avoid basic rights like, “work” or “vote.”

A quick, unscientific study of men-based searches comes up with very different Autocomplete suggestions. Type in “men need to,” and you’ll get “feel needed,” “grow up,” or “ejaculate.” Type in “men shouldn’t,” and you might get, “wear flip flops.”

Google Autocomplete suggestions are generated algorithmically, and function as a “reflection of the search activity of all web users and the content of web pages indexed by Google.” Google’s human monitors won’t limit suggestions unless they qualify as hate speech, pornography, or violence—which is helpful, in a sense, when the mass-generated Autocomplete inadvertently shows that sexism is alive, real, and influencing any number of personal or institutionalized interactions.

Yet, not all of Google’s Autocomplete or ad suggestions serve to merely demonstrate inequality. Sometimes those results can perpetuate discrimination, researchers argue. For example, earlier this year, Harvard Data Privacy Lab director Professor Latanya Sweeney found that when she typed her own first name into Google, the search engine generated ads offering criminal background checks. When she typed in 2,000 other “racially associated names,” she got similar results for black-identifying names, but not when she typed in white-identifying names. Ad results like these could pose a serious problem if a candidate with a black-identifying name applies for a job and the potential employer runs a Google search, Sweeney concluded. The employer’s decision could be tainted by ads suggesting that candidate may have served time in prison, regardless of whether or not that’s true.

Nonetheless, the fact that Autocomplete can inadvertently reveal societal-level misogyny makes it a useful litmus test—even when it dredges up things we’d rather not see.

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21 Comments

  • MyDailyComment

    If you have to write a paper for or against women having the vote or women having certain rights you would search for it on the internet. How does what people search for mean they think women should not have rights?

    This article is stupid. People use google for researching their topics. That's what it is for. People generally should be aware of how a search engine is used.

  • Charles

    Ad results like these could pose a serious problem if a candidate with a black-identifying name applies for a job and the potential employer runs a Google search, Sweeney concluded...

  • Julia Jacobs

    Although I am a fan of intelligent discourse and enjoy contrary opinions to my own, I find it sad to hear from those who assume there is no fair, unbiased, scientific indication of the fear and restrictions on women concerning power and authority in the world at large. My search showed:

    women shouldn't work
    women shouldn't work be in combat
    women shouldn't be cops
    women shouldn't vote

    Compare my search for men:

    men you shouldn't date
    men shouldn't wear flip flops
    men shouldn't marry

    I realize Google search results are skewed based on past search history, but I never looked up these subjects or anything related to these subjects previously. I do feel this is an enlightening look at world views.

    I also feel there is fearful, restrictive attitudes towards allowing men concerning nurturing, being emotionally supportive and / or caring.

    Men should not be stereotyped as or encouraged to be heartless, emotionally stifled and devoid of creativity any more than women should be stereotyped as or encouraged to be subservient, irrational, powerless, weak victims.

    I also find it interesting what people find as positive and negative search results.

  • Adeski

    Women shouldn't...

    ...drive
    ...have short hair
    ...preach
    ...drive
    ...have tattoos

    ...shave

    Oh, the inequality... I think the third one is pretty bang-on.

  • Charles

    I'd venture many searches are looking for published examples of those attitudes as a way to fight

  • EvilPundit

    If feminists have to resort to such misleading and deceptive campaigns, it's because their message is false.

  • Tim Kofoed

    if you try using a positive sentence, the outcome is somewhat different:

    woman is:
    - the future of man
    - sweeter
    - always right
    - like the world

    women are:
    - better than men
    - not chicks
    - better off without bras
    - stupid and I don't respect them (ok, one bad)

    women have:
    - always been the primary victims of war hillary clinton
    - more ribs
    - more friends than men
    - more stamine
    - a higher threshold for pain than men

    ...my point is if the sentence you begin typing has a slight negative connotation, the auto-complete options will also be negative; and vice versa.

  • William Erasmus

    Wow. "Woman are" got me "Women are from venus", "Women are it" and "women are heroes". Maybe it's regional.

  • Nottheusual1

    A reflection of activity and an indicator of intent are two very different things. Since attitudes like those used as examples are inflammatory, I'd venture many searches are looking for published examples of those attitudes as a way to fight, not promote, them. And with extreme number of public examples we see from elected officials of late, I know many of those searches are looking for the videos to share.

    So it may be a reflection of combat, not proliferation.

  • michele

    Those search result's are created mostly by women themselves while using the net It is very sad that there are people showing off an alleged education working on bringing out these preposterous claims. This is pure and simple brain washing.

  • Alejandro Arevalo

    Although most of the searches depicted are discriminatory, I believe some others are intended to seek the opposite effect. When looking for Women cannot speak in church, or women cannot be bishops, probably is to illustrate the misogyny found in the bible and the church traditions. 1 Corinthians 14:34-35

  • The Wrong Agency

    The difference in search results when you type in the same phrase, but substitute 'Man' for 'Woman' is both staggering, and depressing.

    As an example - when I typed in 'Men cannot', the responses where:

    Men cannot be feminists
    Men can't fly
    men can't be feminists
    men can't be friends with women

    They should perhaps run these as a counterpoint to the original campaign.