Some questions are better left unasked.
A look at the Google Autocomplete suggestions for different religious groups shows that people frequently turn to the search engine to ask the questions they may not want to say out loud. The suggestions generated by frequent searches reveal some of our darkest collective stereotypes and generalizations about people of other faiths, some of which are bizarrely specific.
A recent Pew survey examined how the American public feels about various religious groups, with Jews rated the most warmly and Muslims the most coldly. However, the autocomplete suggestions go beyond indicating mere warmth or coldness, instead uncovering some of the most frequently-typed questions about people of different faiths.
So how are the autocompletes generated? According to Google:
Autocomplete predictions are automatically generated by an algorithm without any human involvement based on a number of objective factors, including how often past users have searched for a term.
Our algorithm is designed to reflect the diversity of our users’ searches and content on the web. Just like the web, the search terms shown may seem silly, strange, or surprising. The algorithm automatically detects and excludes a small set of search terms for things like pornography, violence, hate speech, illegal and dangerous things, and terms that are frequently used to find content that violates copyrights.
Google's suggestions are mainly influenced by search frequency, search rate, search location, and search manner, according to a report by Search Engine Journal.
But are these suggestions influencing users, in turn? Probably. Online marketing expert Andre Alpar points out that a person typing in a particular search may become distracted by the suggested entries, and then choose one of the search terms delivered by Google, instead of the particular phrase that they were originally looking for.
The reinforcement of generalizations about various identities through Google suggest is a problem concerning Paul Baker and Amanda Potts, researchers in the Department of Linguistics and English Language at Lancaster University, who wrote a paper titled, "‘Why do white people have thin lips?’ Google and the perpetuation of stereotypes via auto-complete search forms."
A look at the suggestions below show just how dark the suggestions can get, with only Mormons escaping mostly unscathed. Check out what the Internet wants to know about religious groups here.
Why Are Agnostics Hated?
Why Are Anglicans So Liberal?
Why Are Atheists So Angry?
Why Are Baha'is Persecuted In Iran?
Why Are Baptists So Strict?
Why Are Buddhists Killing Muslims In Burma?
Why Are Catholic Countries So Poor?
Why Are Christians So Mean?
Why Are Evangelicals So Hateful?
Why Are Episcopalians Rich?
Why Are Hasidics So Rude?
Why Are Hindu Cows Sacred?
Why Are Jains Wealthy?
Why Are Jews So Rude?
Why Are Methodists Called Methodists?
Why Are Mormons So Nice?
Why Are Muslims So Angry?
Why Are Pagans Fat?
Why Are Pentecostals Fat?
Why Are Presbyterians Called The Frozen Chosen?
Why Are Shiites And Sunnis Fighting?
Why Are Sikh Parents So Strict?
Why Are Sunnis So Violent?
These searches were conducted using an incognito window, so previous personal inquiries would not influence the results. It's also likely that the reporter's location in New York City, New York, U.S.A. influenced the suggestions. For each group, the reporter typed in enough letters to generate suggestions that included the full title of the group in all of them.