As of the time I post this, if you search Google for “Boasian Anthropology,” at the top of the page you get this:
For those who know about the history of Boasian anthropology, the irony – and the insult – that is contained in both the website, and in Google’s decision to feature that as their “snippet,” is almost beyond bearing. While the utility of Boasian thought today might be questioned by a few, Boas had a historic role in combatting “respectable” racism in the United States that is undeniable.
Now, I don’t think that Google is a hub of white supremacy. But I’m sure that the people at the corporation that had “don’t be evil” as a motto will try to hide behind an algorithm, hoping that this launders their moral responsibility. It doesn’t. An algorithm is just another agent or factor (in the old sense of the term), and what this algorithm does they have to own. And best way to take ownership is to remove this as a snippet view, and sit down and discover what went wrong.
I’m hoping that by the time you see this, the snippet offered by the search term will have been corrected. But then, I remember that Google long ago left their motto by the wayside…
UPDATE: The search now yields something quite different – a wikipedia page for Franz Boas. The Verge put out a piece on this, which included the following statement from Google:
Google does not endorse or select responses manually. This content comes from the third-party sites that we do not control. The feature is an automatic and algorithmic match to the search query. We welcome feedback, as we’re always working to improve our algorithms. Users and content owners can give feedback on incorrect information through the “Feedback” button at the bottom right of the WebAnswer.
I’ll leave it to you to decide if this is a case of Google taking moral responsibility, or sloughing it off. I’ve certainly made my mind up on the issue. All I have to say on the topic right now is, to quote a friend of mine, algorithms are social, too.