Incident 88: "Jewish Baby Strollers" Provided Anti-Semitic Google Images, Allegedly Resulting from Hate Speech Campaign

Description: Google's Image search for "Jewish baby strollers" showed offensive, anti-Semitic results, allegedly a result of a coordinated hate-speech campaign involving malicious actors on 4chan.
Alleged: Google developed and deployed an AI system, which harmed Jewish people and Google Images users.

Suggested citation format

Hall, Patrick. (2017-08-15) Incident Number 88. in McGregor, S. (ed.) Artificial Intelligence Incident Database. Responsible AI Collaborative.

Incident Stats

Incident ID
88
Report Count
2
Incident Date
2017-08-15
Editors
Sean McGregor, Khoa Lam

Tools

New ReportNew ReportDiscoverDiscover

CSET Taxonomy Classifications

Taxonomy Details

Full Description

In October 2020, Google images showed anti-semitic images of a portable oven when a user searches "Jewish baby stroller" due to anti-semitic online groups tagging these anti-semitic images with the tag "Jewish baby stroller." Google claims this is a result of 'voids of information' or the algorithm being unable to decipher the image and relying on the images' tags.

Short Description

In October 2020, results for "Jewish baby stroller" on Google Images showed anti-semitic images as a result of organized online targeting by anti-Semitic online groups.

Severity

Minor

Harm Distribution Basis

Religion

Harm Type

Psychological harm

AI System Description

The Google image algorithm uses image recognition and appended text or tags to classify images.

System Developer

Google

Sector of Deployment

Information and communication

Relevant AI functions

Perception, Cognition, Action

AI Techniques

supervised learning, open source

AI Applications

image recognition, image classification, recommendation engine

Location

Global

Named Entities

Google Images, Google, raid

Technology Purveyor

Google, raid

Beginning Date

10/2020

Ending Date

10/2020

Near Miss

Harm caused

Intent

Deliberate or expected

Lives Lost

No

Data Inputs

images, tags, appended texts, user input

Incidents Reports

(JTA) — The Google results are shocking: Do an image search for “Jewish baby strollers” and you’ll see row upon row of portable ovens — an offensive allusion to the Holocaust.

Google says it’s looking into the search results and wants to improve them. But 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 anti-Semites, who make them to allude to Jews belonging in the crematoria Nazis used to incinerate the bodies of Jews they killed in the Holocaust.

Google told the Jewish Telegraphic Agency in a statement that the images are “disturbing,” and are the result of an algorithm. It did not include clear information on how such search results may be prevented.

“We understand these are disturbing results, and we share the concern about this content,” the statement said. “It does not reflect our opinions. 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. 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.”

Google rarely removes individual search results or makes adjustments for one specific search term. 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.”

Network Contagion Research Institute researchers say there could be another possibility: that an anti-Semitic meme, also from 2017, led Google’s search algorithm to mistake the portable oven for a stroller because they look somewhat similar. Like the 4chan posts, the meme is the picture of a portable oven over the text “Jewish baby stroller” in all caps.

“It’s either a raid from 4chan trolls or it’s a meme that circulated on the web,” said Alex Goldenberg, the institute’s lead intelligence analyst. “The Google search algorithm is driving it to the top for some reason, or the item in the meme is tricking the Google algorithm.”

Goldenberg added, “It’s notable that Google Image search didn’t pick that up.”

If it was a coordinated action by online anti-Semites, called a “raid,” it wouldn’t be the first one. In a 2016 “raid” called Operation Google, extremists tried to undermine a new tool Google had for spotting and filtering out racial and ethnic slurs. They did this by replacing the slurs in their comments with the names of tech companies. So, for example, they used the word “Google” instead of the n-word, and used the word “Skype” to refer to Jews. They hoped that doing that would force Google to censor its own name, which did not happen.

This also isn’t the first time Google has yielded anti-Semitic search results. According to MEMRI, a media research organization, and the World Zionist organization, the search term “oy vey” yielded anti-Semitic results as well. In 2016, Google made changes so that its search function no longer suggested the search term “Jews are evil.”

Goldenberg noted that part of the goal of “raids” is to generate media coverage, such that anti-Semitic terms spread more widely.

“The nature of these raids is to attract attention to the anti-Semitism,” he said.

A Google search for ‘Jewish baby strollers’ yields anti-Semitic images. An extremist campaign may be to blame.

The anti-Semitic movement has been on the rise coordinated by an online group named ‘raid’. They operate by manipulating the google image search engine results by attaching abusive images tagged with innocent keywords which in turn, shows the pictures in the search results.

For example, searching for ‘Jewish Baby Stroller’ reveals portable ovens on a wheel with the inscription ‘Made in Germany’, symbolizing the Jews gassed and burned in the holocaust.

According to Brooke Goldstein, a New York lawyer and civil rights activist, the illustrations depicted on Google’s image search engine are used to spread hate and discrimination. “Google needs to take a more proactive approach to penalize websites that distribute such content”, says Goldstein.

Google claims that the situation arises due to what they refer to as ‘voids of information’. Israel Figa states the image search algorithm is unable to decipher pictures, therefore relies on appended text or tags to describe the illustrated content.

“Google reveals images search engine results of a portable oven on a wheel, tagged with the words ‘Jewish Baby Stroller’, explains Israel Figa, “Google had no way of knowing because the images were blended in a way that Google couldn’t easily notice them”. The company claimed they are working towards a comprehensive solution, but still haven’t found an alternative that can perfectly prevent future occurrences.On the other hand, researchers believe that this occurrence is far from being an accident, as they speculate that it might be an extremist coordinated campaign to feature the given images through rogue websites.

According to the Network Contagion Institute, the body that investigates the spread of hate speech online, this is not the first time Anti-Semitic search results appear in the search results for baby strollers. Pictures of portable gas ovens tagged with ‘Jewish Baby Stroller’ first began ranking on Google’s image search back in 2017.

Their main objective is to put across the message that Jews as a group, are evil. From the last statement made by Google, they stated the images of the Jewish Baby Stroller phenomena are not hosted on their web hosting servers and referred to the content as “disturbing.” Google seemed empathic as they claimed that they share the concerns.

A similar incident claims that the websites try to replace abusive terms with words like ‘Skype’ or even ‘Google’ to enable them to override the google search filters.

The EndJewHatred group, a Jewish civil rights activist movement, has announced its determination to rid the internet of the ‘Jewish Baby Stroller’ images.

Jewish Baby Stroller Image Algorithm