During the past couple of weeks, a time when my focus has been on old and tired subjects, a small change in the online world happened. Small in the grand scheme of things, but a very good step forward. I’m speaking of the movement to change the way Google handles the phrase “autistic people should” in their auto-complete offerings.
Ever notice how as you enter terms in the search box for Google, it creates suggestions for you? Well, it turns out that sometimes those suggestions are ugly. For example, if you entered “autistic people should” you would get answers like “die” or “be exterminated”.
Autistic self advocates reacted and got Google to respond. Consider this story:
The “auto-complete” function attempts to save time by suggesting the most common searches that match a user’s first few words. In the case of autism, three of the four suggestions could double as bumper-stickers for hate speech.
Sparrow acknowledged the search engine algorithm isn’t the problem; it is, rather, the frequency of the hostile search terms typed in by Google’s users.
They took a screenshot of what the auto-complete used to look like:
I’ll admit that the number 1 answer I get right now is “autistic people should killed”, but the rest are changed and we can hope that as the changes Google puts into place take effect, this will change as well.
It’s a small change, though. We live in a world where many people, apparently, enter “autistic people should be killed” into Google.
Autism Speaks took notice of the story linked above. They had a short teaser on their site, one that didn’t point out the efforts of the autistics who made it happen. And then, after some pressure, “Updated 3/6/13 to reflect the amazing efforts of the self-advocacy community”
Congratulations to those who made this change happen.
By Matt Carey