Lies, Damned Lies, And Facebook (Part 2 of ∞)

[TRIGGER WARNING: Discussion of violence against the disabled]

I decided to edit the last post to split it in half. Some of you who read this through Reader are probably getting it twice, so apologies for that.

The second Facebook meme to grab my attention recently was this:

This image caught my ire because I have a pet peeve against strawmanning and the disability rights people seem to do it more often than most. My model of them all too often takes complicated issues like “Should we treat disabilities as medical conditions that we should try to research treatments for or as acceptable alternate ways of being?” or “Should we support noncoercive and irreproachably progressive genetics programs like Dor Yeshorim?” and insist that anyone who disagrees with them even a tiny bit just personally hates all disabled people and denies their right to exist and wants to kill them.

And having beliefs ought to mean you can make predictions, so in this case I predicted as soon as I saw this image that something was not quite kosher and that on further investigation it would turn out to be terribly misleading and that people aren’t really this horrible at all. And, well…

First of all, when I Google these words I get some very different results. For example, Googling “disabled people should…” brings up some of the same things they found, but also things like “disabled people should be treated equally”. I am not going to accuse the original author of lying because I know Google can sometimes be idiosyncratic, but at the very least it is less monolithic than the image presumes.

Second of all, even on the offending results, very few of them are actually making the positive case. For one thing, Google interprets “Should disabled people be killed?” interchangeably with “disabled people should be killed”, meaning that a lot of these results are people rhetorically asking “Should disabled people be killed?” and then answering “No, disabled people are as good as anyone else.” Others are quoting other people: for example, the top site to appear for me is an article titled Kill the disabled, they are unworthy , but its title seems to be paraphrasing the Nazi position on the issue and then goes on to say how wrong the Nazis were and how “I have been astounded at the capabilities of these so-called “disabled” people. They speak better English than many of my peers and the joy and spontaneity they experience through music clearly shows them to be more evolved than the average person. I know now that the words ‘special needs, disabled, handicapped and retarded’ need a thorough re-evaluation.”

Another lot are Christian sites, which put the “disabled people should be killed” position in the hands of some hypothetical atheist and then goes on to talk about How Christ Loves Everyone Alike. A few others are obvious trolls who then get knocked down by thirty or forty other people. We fill out the rest with mostly denunciations of politicians allegedly claiming disabled people should be killed, along with demands for the politician involved to resign.

I searched through the first thirty search results for “disabled people should be killed”, and I could not find one single web page which was unambiguously an essay in favor of the proposition. Thirteen were outrage porn railing against the fact that some other vague person or organization was even considering the question, and the other seventeen were a complicated mixture of things which admittedly did include a very few comments in favor although they all looked like they were written by thirteen year olds.

But there’s an even bigger problem here, which is that Google loathes everyone in the world with the burning fury of a million suns.

Type in “French people should…” and the single AutoComplete suggestion is “French people should die”. “Germans should” gets you “Germans should die” and “Germans should be exterminated”, as well as the equally-scary-for-different-reasons “Germans should have won”. “Jews should” gets you “Jews should all die”, “Jews should leave America”, and the comparatively reasonable “Jews should apologize for killing Jesus.”

This isn’t just Google’s oppressive WASP user base hating foreigners and minorities either. “White people should…” brings up four options: “white people should be slaves”, “white people should die”, “white people should go back to Europe” and “white people should be killed”.

“Homosexuals should…” gives you “…should be killed”, but “straight people should…” gives “straight people should die” as well. Is there anyone who Google doesn’t think should die? Apparently yes! “Hitler should…” gives you “Hitler should have won the war” and “Hitler should have finished the job”.

Google AutoComplete has complicated political beliefs. “Obama should…” gives “Obama should die” and “Obama should be killed”, but “Bush should…” gives “Bush should be in jail.” Type in “rich people should” and you get “rich people should die”. Type in “poor people should”, and you get, unsurprisingly “poor people should die” (as well as “poor people should be sterilized”). Google thinks “Republicans should be ashamed of themselves” and “Republicans should be killed”, but also that “Democrats should be shot” and the somewhat nonsequitur “Democrats should be confiscated”. Christians should “be killed”, atheists should “shut up”, and Muslims should “be exterminated” (or at least “not be allowed in America”). Some of Google’s opinions are bizarre: it seems to feel very strongly (all its suggestions are variants of this same phrase) that “dead people should stay dead”.

Even the user herself doesn’t escape Google’s universal crushing misanthropy. Type in “I should…” (without a space), and your second option is “I shouldn’t be alive”. Nor does the species as a whole: type in “humans should” and number two is “humans should die” (number four is “humans should go extinct”.)

It seems kind of ironic that a company whose motto is “Don’t Be Evil” has a flagship product that believes virtually every demographic group should be murdered en masse. I don’t know if this is a weird quirk of the search algorithm or if pretty much everyone who makes should-statements on the Internet is recommending genocide.

But I hope that this problem gets solved before Google tries to build a recursively self-improving artificial intelligence.

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32 Responses to Lies, Damned Lies, And Facebook (Part 2 of ∞)

  1. Avery says:

    Thank you, good sir, for inspiring the best laugh I’ve had in a good long while. I just about lost it at “Dead people should stay dead,” interfering greatly with my attempt to read the whole thing aloud to my husband.

  2. honnibal says:

    I doubt anybody will be able to comment publicly on exactly how Google’s search completion works. But, here’s a plausible scenario.

    Check out the results here:

    See how the second link is “Judge Agrees Marine Should Die For Murdering French Valley Couple”? It’s a useful reminder that Google will be chopping up the input query and searching for its component words and phrases individually, as well as the whole thing.

    A natural way to model the probability of the next word after “French people should…” is to make a maximum likelihood estimate: given some example data, count the probability of each continuation, and normalise by the probability of the original.

    But language is pretty sparse, so no sample is ever big enough, once you’re asked to model continuations from more than a few words. So you get better results by asking questions about the distribution of words immediately following “should”, searching for “french people”, etc.

    So you’ll see similar results for “Republicans should…” and “Democrats should…”, because both results are strongly influenced by the query “should…”.

  3. Oligopsony says: may serve as a control for Google (unless based on it in some way; I don’t know.)

  4. Julia says:

    Jeff did an elaborate test of variations on “Why are [nationality] so ….”, which comes up with uniformly negative questions. First hit for Americans is “Why are Americans so stupid?” followed by “so cocky,” “so lazy,” and “so rude.”

    Canadians seem to have the best Google reputation, as people want to know why they are “so polite” and “so friendly”.

  5. BeoShaffer says:

    I get “rationalists should win”.

  6. Berna says:

    I wondered what Google thinks of itself:
    google is evil
    google is your friend
    goodle is god
    google is down

    and what it should do:
    google should buy
    google should buy sony
    google should buy ubuntu
    google should buy twitter

  7. jimrandomh says:

    Google autocomplete is a strange thing. One example that keeps coming up is what happens when people use Google to evaluate an organization’s credibility. Suppose you’re considering buying from Acme Corp, but you want to make sure they’re legitimate. So you type “Acme Corp scam” into Google. Luckily, the top result is not a denunciation by the New York Times, but rather, an angry thirteen year old who had to wait two weeks for the refund on a $5 toy that didn’t meet his expectations. Since this is the worst dirt Google had to offer, you can confidently proceed with your order. But once more than a few people use this strategy, Google learns that “Acme Corp scam” is a common thing to search for, and starts popping it up as a suggestion to people who’re just looking for Acme corp’s page, or who’re half-way through typing “Acme Corp reviews”. And so Acme Corp sues Google for libel, because that’s not really fair.

    Now suppose you heard a rumor that is strongly biased against disabled people, and you want to find out if it’s true. So you search for “Louis XIII says disabled people should die”. Luckily, the top result is not a C-span transcript or a denunciation by the New York Times, but rather, an angry 13 year old who wants attention for some reason. Luckily for Louis XIII, his top autocomplete results are “Louis XIII fiscal policy”, “Louis XIII guillotine control”. But sadly, the substring “disabled people should” doesn’t really get used anywhere else, so Google happily finishes the sentence.

    And the practical upshot of this is that Google’s autocompleter hates people.

  8. Deiseach says:

    Some of Google’s opinions are bizarre: it seems to feel very strongly (all its suggestions are variants of this same phrase) that “dead people should stay dead”.

    Scott, that is not at all bizarre; that is a perfectly cromulent attitude towards the forthcoming zombie apocalypse and when the drooling, shambling undead arise to munch on your brains, you may find yourself expressing the same views 🙂

    Doubtless some bleeding-heart advocates of ‘equality’ for vampires, liches and zombies will bleat about thanatophobia, but I say that when their bleeding hearts have been ripped out of their ribcages and are being devoured by the unholy hell-spawn, then talk to me about my beliefs.

    Hmm – Google tells me the Irish should “eat their children” and “eat their babies” – who knew Dean Swift had been reincarnated?

    • Mary says:

      That’s blatant necrophobia on your part.

      On the other hand, it’s also blatant necrophobia to suggest that something’s wrong about being dead, so they should become alive if possible.

      • Deiseach says:

        Oh, here we go: I have a personal objection to ghouls cracking open my bones to suck out the marrow, so that makes me a bigot? I do not wish my life-force siphoned out by means of infernal rites in order to animate a rotting cadaver into a blasphemous parody of existence, so I’m a hater?

        Sorry, sister! I’m fully signed up to the Professor Abraham van Helsing School of Vampire Diplomacy (motto: “More stake!”). You may be happy to become a morsel for the profane hungers of those cursed not to rest quiet in the grave, but I say “Mors is not vita!”

  9. “Short men should” gave “Short men should die”, “Short men should give up”, “Short men should kill themselves”, a link to this article, and a link to this blog.

    It looks like you’ve (accidentally?) hacked autocomplete.

    • Second thought: That’s the autocomplete I’m getting because Google knows I’m interested in this article. I have no idea what people who haven’t read this article and its predecessor would get.

  10. “Short people should” gives “short people should die”, “short people should wear”, and “short people shouldn’t wear”.

  11. ozymandias42 says:

    “Trans women are” gives “trans women are not women,” “trans women are not females,” “trans women are women,” and “trans women are men.” “Trans men are” gives “all trans men are hot,” “trans men aren’t men,” and “trans women are men” again, by which I conclude that Google isn’t sure what gender trans women are but is VERY CONCERNED about this issue. (“Genderqueer are” gives me “genderqueer bay area,” which I love.)

    Also my model of a disability rights activist is a generally reasonable person with an odd tendency to reject eugenics and right-to-die stuff, but this may be related to my tendency to stop listening to people as soon as they say something along the lines of “it’s ableist to use the word ‘lame’!”

    • im says:

      I think it might have been more about discourse implications of policy than the policy itself.

  12. András Kovács says:

    People should…

    smile more
    smile more tab
    know when they’re conquered
    n’t be afraid of their government

  13. Atreic says:

    I think your blog must be one of the few places where ‘don’t read the comments’ doesn’t apply!

    “Dogs should” gives…

    Dogs should not eat
    Dogs should be banned

    “Cats should” gives…

    Cats should not eat
    Cats shouldn’t drink milk

    “Rabbits should” gives (you’ve guessed it)

    Rabbits should not eat

    Maybe PETA should use a similar image to show that everyone is starving their animals…

  14. Rob says:

    It’s ok on that last point, Google still believes “Artificial intelligence should be banned”.

  15. Vanzetti says:


    Bender is great
    Bender is god (!)

  16. Vanzetti says:

    Results for humanity:

    humanity should go extinct
    humanity should be exterminated
    humanity should die
    humanity should be destroyed


    all humans should die
    all humans should have equal rights

    Seems to me Google is channeling Bender.

  17. Heather Gaye says:

    I tried “Maori should” (I’m a kiwi) and I got “Maori shoulder tattoos”. Awesome.

    Also, apparently the Americans should have longer vacations, learn Spanish, and not have guns. This is an awesome game!

    & apropos of… well, the whole disability debate, a friend is a disability rights advocate, and he’s very reasonable. I think his position is toward the “alternate way of life” angle, but primarily for two reasons: 1) a very large number of people with disabilities will never realise their desire to be “fixed”, and 2) about a third of us will deal with some kind of disability in our lifetime. Abled people tend to have a very narrow idea of what “disabled” looks like. When someone mentions disability, we usually overlook the fragility of old age, the wide spectrum of severity, and impairment caused by chronic mental illness and brain disorders. My friend’s job is to lobby and consult with government and local bodies to accommodate disability in policy & planning as a part of the normal range of human experience, rather than treating it as a tack-on. Big task, to be sure.

  18. Grognor says:

    I tried this with a member of a particular group I am in and got this:

    No genocide recommendations!

    • Mary says:

      As for right-handed people, we get — no auto complete suggestions if you append the should.

      Total free agents, us. No responsibilities at all!

  19. Avantika says:

    The Google autocomplete version of Lord of the Rings:

    ‘Pippin should be banned.’
    ‘Boromir should have lived.’
    ‘Gandalf should have stayed dead.’
    ‘Aragorn should have married Eowyn.’
    ‘Frodo should have died.’
    ‘Sam should have carried ring.’
    ‘Sauron should have won.’
    ‘Gollum is prettier than Legolas’.

  20. Avantika says:

    Hey, it even gives me ‘Sauron should have won.’

  21. im says:

    I find your model of disability rights advocates depressingly accurate. It seems like there is scarcely a broadly acceptable opinion, and that a lot of it ignores the existence of a baseline / acts as if there are also superhumans running around.

    Disabled rights movement still neccesary. But if you go looking for hatred, you will find it even if it wasn’t there before.