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Trolling Search Algorithms

Recently, “Wired Autocomplete” videos have become an internet trend. These videos depict celebrities revealing, and answering Google users’ most searched questions about them. When the beginning of a question is typed into the Google search bar, such as “What does Brad Pitt…”, the search engine auto-completes the phrase, and displays the most popular autocompletions in a drop-down menu. Google uses a method called, Page Ranking, to provide a score for every search request, and then displays these searches in a hierarchy. The score for each search is found by summing the scores of the links directed at that particular search. Google Autocomplete uses every search as a link –being added to a search’s summed score.

While the Page Rank method is largely effective for web search autocomplete, it is susceptible to internet trolls, and has been criticized for even promoting inappropriate content to children. In 2017, YouTube faced backlash for displaying pedophilic content in it’s autocomplete menu. When a user typed the words, “‘how to have’ into the site’s search bar, one of the suggested searches was ‘how to have s*x with kids’” (Wamsley). Buzzfeed reported that this was likely due to “motivated trolls” who, by persistent searching the same phrase, are able to elevate inappropriate content in the autocomplete menu (Wamsley). Each search is, “modulated with a time-decaying function which gives rise to the so-called node relevance: a node of high-fitness thus initially has high relevance and potentially attracts many links”(Mariani). Many searches within a short period can create relevancy. Once a search becomes popular, its visibility increases the probability of it being searched, thereby elevating its popularity further.  Since this incident, YouTube has manually removed the inappropriate search suggestions from the autocomplete menu. Google states that their autocomplete algorithm already filters inappropriate content with high page rankings from appearing in the autocomplete menu. However, it is unclear why Google, a parent company of YouTtube, would have such differing algorithms (Wired). Many are hopeful that YouTube will increase filtering as to mitigate this type of content from exposure to children, especially because YouTube is a site heavily explored by young children.

 

Citations:

Wamsley, Laurel. “Is YouTube’s Algorithm Endangering Kids?” NPR, NPR, 27 Nov. 2017, www.npr.org/sections/thetwo-way/2017/11/27/566769570/youtube-faces-increased-criticism-that-its-unsafe-for-kids.

 

Mariani, Manuel Sebastian, et al. “Ranking Nodes in Growing Networks: When PageRank Fails.” Nature News, Nature Publishing Group, 10 Nov. 2015, www.nature.com/articles/srep16181.

 

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