Google responds after search term yields antisemitic allusion to Holocaust

Upon running an image search for "Jewish baby strollers," users would see row upon row of portable ovens — an offensive allusion to the Holocaust.

AN OFFICE of Google in London. (photo credit: REUTERS)
AN OFFICE of Google in London.
(photo credit: REUTERS)
Google responded to reports and outcry surrounding an innocuous search term returning virulent antisemitic images and rhetoric, stating that it has changed its algorithm in order to block the potential for offensive results such as these in the future.
Upon running an image search for "Jewish baby strollers," users would see row upon row of portable ovens — an offensive allusion to the Holocaust.
"These results do not reflect our opinions, and we share concerns about these low quality results," Google told the Algemeiner in a statement. "We’ve done considerable work in improving instances where we return low quality content, and we’ll look at this situation to see how we can return more helpful results."
Google noted that they house a permanent team to take care of such issues, and are currently dealing with this one as it develops. However, Google doesn't normally remove search results fully or make adjustments for one specific search term unless it is deemed illegal, and it holds a belief that people should have the right to freedom of information within legality, even antisemitic tropes, racial slurs, etc.
"Our products are platforms for free expression, but we don’t permit hate speech," Google stated, “If we find content or behavior that violates these policies, we’ll respond appropriately, including potentially removing that content or terminating account privileges."
These terms of service arrangements only apply to YouTube and Google's other platforms, not to its search engine. A Google spokesperson told the Algemeiner that it doesn't remove these types of results because there may be a "public interest" in searching for these ideas in order to know they are out there, possibly combat them, etc. - removing the pages would be harmful in this regard.
A spokesperson said the company looks for “broader systematic improvements that can make Search better for other queries like it.” In particular, the spokesperson said, the challenge here is a “data void” where the only content available for a search term is “offensive [or] of low quality.”
Google noted that it's "rare" for an innoculous search term such as "Jewish baby strollers" to return the offensive results they did, adding thier algorithm is coded to avoid exposure to these types of low quality results without actually actively seeking out the offensive content.
"When people search for images on Google, our systems largely rely on matching the words in your query to the words that appear next to images on the webpage," Google said when the offensive search was made known to them. "For this query, which is for a product that doesn’t actually exist, the closest matches are web pages that contain offensive and hateful content. We’ve done considerable work in improving instances where we return low quality content, and we’ll look at this situation to see how we can return more helpful results."
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Posted by CIJA on Saturday, September 26, 2020

According to researchers, the results may not be an accident. It’s possible that they’re the result of a coordinated extremist campaign on a fringe website to yield those specific images.
The Network Contagion Research Institute, which studies the way hate speech spreads online, located a series of posts on the 4chan message board, dating back to 2017, that purposefully pair images of ovens on wheels with the term “Jewish baby stroller.” There were at least a dozen such images turned up in one search, dating from August and September 2017. That means these results may have been in place for years, even though they drew attention Friday.
Posting that specific term next to the image may have manipulated Google’s search algorithm, such that it promoted those images when users search the term, says Joel Finkelstein, the institute’s director.
"What happens is they trick Google into putting that stuff up top," Finkelstein said. "They paste the image with the words so that when you search those words, the image comes to the top."
Oven references are relatively common among antisemites, who make them to allude to Jews belonging in the crematoria Nazis used to incinerate the bodies of Jews they killed in the Holocaust.
Ben Sales/JTA contributed to this report.