Why Does Google’s New ‘Instant’ Feature Exclude Lesbians and Bisexuals?

Yesterday Google unveiled Google Instant, a new feature that quickly suggests links as you enter your search query. For example, type in “bi” and it will suggest pages on bipolar disorder. Type in “bisexual” though and you’ll get a blank page. Google Instant Product manager Jonathan Effrat says, “Finding the right information should feel easy,” but Google apparently has an Apple-like criteria in deciding what information is “right.” Among the terms their new feature just won’t serve: lesbian, orgasm, and Michael Lucas (sorry Mike).

We know that most people who type in “lesbians” or “bisexual” want porn because porn sites continue to dominate Google’s search results. But Google Instant provides a content filter to “exclude certain terms related to pornography, violence and hate speech.” So, they exclude “lesbian” and “bisexual” along with most below-the-belt terms such as fetish, vaginal health, and orgasm. However it does continue serve up results for Santorum and the old Google still offers a direct link to the Wikipedia entry on felching; and therein lies the problem.

Google Instant has a weird and inconsistent approach to handling other queer terms. For example, they’ll serve up results on lesbian rights, lesbian film, and lesbian art, but only if you type in those words after entering lesbian — otherwise you get a blank page. They’re also OK with “fag” which yields fag jokes, fag bomb, and fag bash but not with “faggot.” And you’ll only get a blank page for “hate crime” even though they serve up links for “gay bash.”

That’s not to accuse Google of having an anti-lesbian or anti-bisexual bias (far from it), it just has an inconsistent and overly cautious search policy. Of course, one can find hundreds of links relating to these “forbidden words” merely by clicking “Google Search”, but one of the joys of searching is accidentally stumbling upon new links and associations you didn’t originally think of — like going into Wikipedia to learn about Alice in Wonderland and ending up reading about psychopharmacology. Often, you don’t often know what you’re interested in until you see it.

By narrowly restricting their search results to avoid poon, Google Instant has perhaps deprived young lesbians who could benefit from learning about lesbian art or lesbian rights if they only knew to keep typing. Google Instant would do better to combine their current SafeSearch filters with Google Instant to offer more robust search results that challenge and educate their users rather than censor them before they’re finished typing.

To their credit however Google Instant does deliver results for anti-gay, closeted, crotch, DADT, drag queen, ENDA, erection, ex-gay, leather daddy, oral sex, and of course Queerty (highlighting our Chatroulette, Morning Goods, and Target coverage). Also to our delight, our search for “rentboy” yielded some very satisfying results.

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  • naoma

    What is this? What about your credo: “do no harm?”
    What is harmful about the words you have chosen to not SEARCH?

  • Jemma

    You said “That’s not to accuse Google of having an anti-lesbian or anti-bisexual bias (far from it), it just has an inconsistent and overly cautious search policy”. Let me fix your sentence for you, it should read like “Google has an anti-lesbian and an anti-bisexual bias, BECAUSE it has an inconsistent search policy”.

    Speaking as a lesbian, yes, Google does have an anti-lesbian bias, and an anti-bisexual bias. The fact that I can search the word gay, but can’t search the word lesbian means there is an anti-lesbian bias. The fact that I can search heterosexual, or homosexual, but not bisexual means there’s a anti-bisexual bias. It’s that simple. Google needs to fix this problem so that their lesbian or bisexual customers don’t feel so excluded (as I do right now).

    “Overly cautious” isn’t a defense that rings true. If Google was overly cautious, then there would be literally hundreds of search terms that would be outlawed, yet currently are not. Remember, this company didn’t censor santorum, felching, fag, or gay bash. They sure don’t SEEM overly cautious. They just seem Lesbianophobic.

    You also said something like most people who google the word ‘lesbian’ or ‘bisexual’ are just looking for porn. This might be true, or might not….but even if it is…so?? What about all of the lesbians who use google, who are googling the word lesbian? Although they might be looking for porn, they might be looking for lesbian and gay pride events, or LGBT community centers, or Lesbian poetry and writings, or lesbian forums where they can connect with a like-minded community, or Lesbian relationship advice, or news headlines that concern lesbians. None of these should be censored!

  • slobone

    @jemma, I doubt very seriously if Google had a meeting where they decided, “we’ll censor ‘lesbian’ but not ‘gay'”. More likely they entrusted the decision to some underling with peculiar ideas of his own (I’m guessing ‘his’ is the right pronoun).

    So let’s give them a day or two, or a week, to fix it. If they don’t then yes, I agree with you 100%.

  • slobone

    And PS, perfectly good English words like “blow” and “suck” are also being censored. So if you’re like for the sea shanty “Blow the Man Down”, you’re out of look.

    Oddly enough, “shit” is OK, as long as it’s the first letters of “shitmydadsays” which I guess is a book or something?

    Incidentally, if you turn off Instant Search, you get the same censoring for Google suggestions. So I don’t know if their suggestions always censored “lesbian” or if that just happened yesterday too.

    The whole thing is ridiculous if you ask me. What world do they think they’re living in — the Victorian era?

  • slobone

    @slobone: Umm, that should be you’re out of luck, not you’re out of look. I have a problem with homophones…

  • DavyJones

    You’re not ‘out-of-luck” You just have to take the effort to hit the ‘enter’ key. I understand that must be really hard to do, but honestly; pick your battles people…

  • Alyxuk

    Surely, they could just make it give suggestions and results based on the existing SafeSearch settings? That way, schools and office workers with safe search on (or strict or normal), will only get suggestions for terms that meet that.

  • Swedish Fish

    @slobone Dude, this isn’t some recent problem. They’ve been doing this to the word ‘lesbian’, as far back as I can recall, for a year or two.

    There should be mass complaints to Google for this. It’s wrong. If they don’t want porn sites popping up on the search, they should do something about that instead.

  • SteamPunk

    @Jemma: It does suck that some had to get the short end of the stick, but I seriously doubt Google has an “anti-lesbian and an anti-bisexual policy” as you mentioned. It may be a stupid move, but they aren’t really “anti” anything.

    Remember, it’s Google that sent the media for a spin when they decided to start favorably adjusting the paychecks for LGBT employees who opt for domestic partner benefits (to make up for the tax disparity that heterosexuals don’t have to deal with).

    See here:

    It’s also Google who has a full-on LGBT committee – called the Gayglers – who not only organize events, and march in Pride, but has a welcome page on Google’s recruiting website.

    See here:

    And, like and business, put those Android Pride shirts up for sale so they can make some sweet cash off of them :)

    See here:

  • Max the Communist

    How did you do with words like queer, pansexual, polysexual, polyamory, kink, leather, or BDSM?

    Come to think of it, how did you do with words like transgender, transexual, genderqueer, drag queen, female impersonator, transvestite, he/she or tranny?

    Please let us know your findings.

  • Max the Communist

    Damn, now you’ve got me going . . . how about words like butch, femme, boi, pansy, fairy, nancy boy, bulldagger, dyke, byke (a bisexual dyke) . . . somebody help me out here . . . what else?

  • Bareback Hussein Osama

    @Max the Communist: Do not blow your cover, Max. We, Communists, should stay in the closet. This way we can do more damage to America without anyone paying attention.

  • Dustin

    It would be worth looking up what the top results are. Perhaps the overwhelming prevalence of sexually explicit or negative content has them censor it. Engage in a little SEO get some good top level results that are PRO lesbian to fill the top 30 and you may start seeing things pop up.

  • McMike

    Remind me to not use Google. If they’re going to block certain terms but allow ‘fag’ to be in this new system then I can easily find another engine to use.

  • Michael

    Much of the Internet is sex and porn, so, gee, you already know the problem. What do you expect Google to do? Of course they need some form of filtering, lest they will be accused of promoting porn – just like Craig’s List. Keep in mind, Google is censored in certain countries, and even banned altogether in others. Nobody is being harmed by this new tool, nor is Google going out of it’s way to discriminate against the gay community. Google is not a non-profit, public information service. It is an advertising company, just like Craig’s List. The real problem is a litigious, “holier-than-thou” society, and certain politicians who aspire to be higher office.

  • Roger

    I’m so confused about this NEW feature. Hasn’t it existed for a long time now? All it does is pop up a box with suggestions, when you type something into Google, right? That’s been happening for a while. Maybe I’m missing something.

  • Roger

    @Roger: Oh, I see. I had to watch the video and really pay attention to see what they meant. It’s kind of subtle—and difficult to catch the difference.

  • Sceth

    [1] Give the new feature time to refine.
    [2] You’re talking about “not being able to search” for things. Poor word choice; hit Enter.

  • Max the Communist

    @Bareback Hussein Osama
    You’re a secret Christian with a valid birth certificate, aren’t you? AREN’T YOU?!?! I will not deal with terrorists . . . whose lifestyle I can’t approve of. You’re on your own, pseudo-commie bastard!

  • Succubus Evaligan

    Why don’t block gay too?
    I write gay and show to me many results in instant search…
    why lesbian is “sex” and gay not?
    are more gay porn than lesbian porn in internet…

Comments are closed.