Books

With my PhD in English Literature at Edinburgh University about to begin, I will be reading lots of stuff this year. Do not expect weekly reviews, I do not read quickly. But I will share with you anything interesting I do read, whether it’s a novel that’s in vogue, or something from my course that I think is worth knowing that broadened my horizon. I’ll be reading a lot of things about transgender discourse, but hopefully, a lot of things which aren’t, as well.

Algorithms of Oppression by Safiya Umoja Noble

Algorithms-II

 Algorithms of Oppression: How Search Engines Reinforce Racism by Safiya Umoja Noble

Should the Internet be regulated? It's a question I've never thought about, until recently, and the reading of this book. Here is my review of a book about a topic I can barely talk about without looking like those aged politicians trying to grill Mark Zuckerberg in that Senate Committee, like a Retirement Home ensemble unable to use the remote control.

It's a word you often hear, its meaning quite innocuous, but the impact on the world profound. Algorithm, to those like me who use the Internet but don't really know how it works, is an all-knowing cyber-oracle that takes us where we want to go, or from working out our profile, suggests things we might like. To be technical, by quoting an online definition, algorithm is:

'a process or set of rules to be followed in calculations or other problem-solving operations, especially by a computer.'

So far, so innocent. Yet in her study Algorithms of Oppression (2018), Safiya Umoja Noble investigates, with considerable technical expertise and experience in the field, the illusion of this 'neutral technology.' The result is the exposure of algorithms as reinforcing the neoliberal, and patriarchal, white Western ideology of its creators, the Silicon Valley set of Zuckerbergs and Musks. Noble's book reveals that our Internet-funnelled choices are weighted towards particular cultural and commercial interests, presented with the veneer of omniscient impartiality.

To give one example: 'Google Search,' says Noble, is 'an advertising platform, not intended to solely serve as a public information resource in the way that, say, a library might. Google creates advertising algorithms, not information algorithms' (38).

The hegemony of the white male gaze, and the popular and lucrative accessing of pornography, means particular representations of the female will be favoured. More egregiously are the consequences for people of colour. Noble's research started with an online search for 'black girls,' resulting in proliferations of sexualised and dehumanized imagery. Search engines would prioritize moneyed representations that distorted black women according to a series of mainstream, male-driven caricatures: 'Women, particularly of color, are represented in search queries against the backdrop of a White male gaze that functions as the dominant paradigm on the Internet in the United States.' Noble's message throughout the book is that we have to regulate the search engines more effectively, to ensure that representations of the disempowered don't become the domain of myths and caricatures of the empowered majority culture.

Relating to this is arguably the most directly damaging impact of Google's algorithms: the Charleston church shooting in 2015, in which white supremacist Dylann Roof entered a prayer service with a handgun and murdered nine people, all African Americans. As Noble says of Roof's movements prior to the killing, 'Roof allegedly typed "black on White crime" in a Google search . . . What Roof found was information that confirmed a patently false notion that Black violence on White Americans is an American crisis. Roof reportedly reached the Council of Conservative Citizens (CCC) when he searched Google for real information . . . For Roof, CCC was a legitimate information resource purporting to be a conservative news media organization.' The CCC is apparently a slightly more respectable version of the KKK, a segregationist movement presenting objectivity.

Noble questions how Google could prioritize, for a search of 'black on white crime,' a fact-checked-free site of white segregationists like the CCC's, instead of a source of fact-checked information like the FBI's crime statistics; in the latter case, the statistics demonstrate 'how crime against White Americans is largely an intraracial phenomenon,' of white-against-white violence being the commonality. The Charleston Church shooting arguably was caused by the way a search engine that guides inquiries to skewed racist websites, purporting to be factual.

What Noble's revelations provide is further evidence of the need for regulating the Internet, including the use of algorithms and search engines, with their dangerous presentation of white male mythologies on the front pages of our searches. With 'fake news' contaminating fact-checked information on a daily basis like never before, white supremacist ideology in particular appears to be shaping the news, and people's responding actions. How one regulates the Internet and its search engine algorithms is, of course, another issue entirely. What is clear is that the Internet is already not a site of neutrality or liberation, and our searches are not just some trip into the library. Commercially-driven manipulations are already occurring. Disempowered peoples are victimized due to it. Nobel's book is an excellent point from which to begin discussing this complex area.
The Other Slavery
Ngũgĩ wa Thiong'o's Wrestling with the Devil: A Pr...
 

Comments

No comments made yet. Be the first to submit a comment
Guest
Wednesday, 23 June 2021

Captcha Image

My Latest Posts

June 14, 2021

An androgynous orgasm: Fashion Beast by Alan Moore

in Books

An androgynous orgasm: Fashion Beast by Alan Moore The images of this story become like memories of another life, maybe what's to come, Gina making do in a fascist state and looking good in spite of everything, a version of me, a cosmic cousin. Like the time I wrote about Cloud City in a film from my childhood, the cosmos conjures certain plac...
June 09, 2021

Retreating from gender-critical feminism: my reflections

Retreating from gender-critical feminism: my reflections Some months back, I reached out to the people who were meant to be my enemies: gender-critical feminists. I was worn down and had had enough of the media attacks and the hate, the JK Rowling furore and GRA reform, the weekly articles questioning our intentions and validity. I was worn down by...
May 02, 2021

When Renata Carvalho spoke at Edinburgh Transgender Intersectional/International (2019)

In 2019, I was part of a conference that invited the travesti actress and activist Renata Carvalho - star of Jo Clifford's 'The Gospel According to Jesus, Queen of Heaven' on its touring production in Brazil - to come over from Brazil as our keynote speaker. We originally uploaded the speech on our conference website, but with that w...
December 22, 2020

Lacanian Icarus: when Gina flew too close to the sun?

On the recent experience of nearly being no-platformed There are two identities in one when it comes to being part of a disempowered minority. The first is for yourself: all your failings, your insecurities, your doubts, and connected to this, your curiosity and quirks. Let's be Lacanian analysts for a moment: what we're talking about is the transg...
November 17, 2020

Trans Hell-thcare

The picture accompanying this post is important to me. I took it yesterday, 16 November 2020, unsure what I'd find. It's been nearly eleven months since I came off oestrogen for reasons I'll get into in a moment. Undoubtedly this has had an effect on me, bodily and therefore psychologically, but the accompanying selfie gives me a reassura...
July 01, 2020

Silenced by The Scotsman

On 11 June 2020, The Scotsman published a deeply hostile article against transgender rights and activism in an opinion piece about the JK Rowling furore by its deputy political editor Gina Davidson. After much distress, I wrote a counter article which The Scotsman quietly ignored, after they had offered to pass it on to their Comment Editor. I expe...
May 11, 2020

The Book of Queer Prophets, curated by Ruth Hunt

in Books

  The Book of Queer Prophets: 24 Writers on Sexuality and Religion The historically fraught relationship between Abrahamic religions and LGBT+ identities provides the backdrop to The Book of Queer Prophets , a collection of twenty-four meditations by public figures who identify as both religious and LGBT+. The book's curator, the for...
May 09, 2020

Queer/Transgender short film: Mesmeralda

Joshua Matteo's short film, Mesmeralda , merging horror with esoterica, is now out on youtube . As with his previous work Metanoia , we see youthful trans actors racing through the empty streets of a moonlit New York, haunted by symbols and stalked by a masked figure of violent intentions. Mesmeralda , as described by Matteo, is the companion ...
March 15, 2020

My 2020 Vision

My 2020 Vision I've been away for so long from these postings, don't be offended. I used to write three times a week, because I needed to, in the maelstrom of early transitioning. Now, things are calmer, my gender feels more normal, we've reached the point where it's all about finishing my PhD in Trans Female Representations in the Americas this su...