UH-OH: Google Search's 'Gayest' Problem Is Thinking That Word Means 'Worst'

Sick of seeing people throw around the word "gay" as a synonym for "bad"? You might want to stay away from Google then.

The widely used search engine apparently equates the word "gayest" with the word "worst": search for the former, and the latter will pop up in results. This phenomenon, most recently reported by Buzzfeed on Wednesday, has apparently been going on for a while. The fact that Google equates words with other, similar words in its search processes is pretty well-known -- search for "photographs," for instance, and you'll get results containing the words "photograph" and "photographer."

However, sometimes Google's algorithm does not quite get it right. For a long time, the words "vegetarian" and "vegan" were equated, leading to irritated user complaints on the product forums. Same with the words "gay" and "fag." What's interesting is Google's refusal to manually correct the algorithm's equations. When Buzzfeed asked Google to comment on the misstep, Google responded: "These results are determined by algorithms and we don’t manually correct this process." In other words, removing an equivalency, no matter how homophobic, is a no-go.

But maybe this brouhaha has a silver lining: Perhaps displeasure with Google's refusal to tweak its search algorithm can now unite liberals and conservatives across the aisle. A number of prominent conservatives have bashed Google recently for refusing to correct its search algorithm when they it showed an alleged liberal bias. Lots of people had fun Googling "Santorum" during the 2012 U.S. elections, which led people not first to the webpage of conservative presidential candidate Rick Santorum but instead to the page describing a crude sexual term called "Santorum." So maybe Santorum's "Google problem" is now gay activists' problem as well.



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