I remember adolescent me questioning my sexuality. I remember the Google searches. I remember what came up when I typed in the keyword ‘lesbian’. Pornographic imagery… what a harrowing experience for a young teenage girl simply trying to learn about herself and others like her. Luckily such experiences might be a thing of the past as Google has adapted their algorithm to lessen the sheer volume of pornographic content that surfaces when searching for lesbian related media.
This correction came about after a French website started reporting on the matter during pride month. When typing in ‘lesbian’ into the search engine under the site’s curated pride banner these pornographic images pop up. It is reported by Numerama that searching on the French version of the search engine (just before 18 July) such searches would solely pull up porn–if of course, safe search was not activated.
The Advocate reported that Google’s team have in previous years had trouble with machine learning and artificial intelligence algorithms as connecting with terms and phrases had been prioritized. In 2017 these problems were reported as YouTube began blocking often wholesome LGBTQ content with the use of Restricted Mode filters. It was the case that AI’s began confusing “lesbian porn” searches with just “lesbian” searches meaning that searching for lesbian content returns pornographic imagery. Reportedly, Google was spurred on to make this change by a social media campaign led by @SEO_lesbienne on Twitter as well as the report on Numerama.
These problems in the algorithm have been addressed by manual interference and teaching the AI’s not to assume that searches such as ‘lesbian’, ‘lesbienne’ (French), ‘girl’ or ‘teen’ is a request for content that is sexually explicit.
Though this is a great step, it seems to apply to only the first pages of the search engine when searching for lesbian content. There is still a lot of work to do. However, hopefully this will create a platform for members of the LGBTQ community to explore their sexuality more freely online without seeing sexualized images of womxn “getting it on”. Personally, as a kid growing up in the 00s with the internet still fresh and shit, the sexually explicit imagery I saw online I will in all probability never recover from (and I know I’m not alone).