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Google’s Bisexual Problem

by Faith Cheltenham

Google's block of the word bisexual from its Auto Complete and Instant Search features has slowly become a slight obsession of mine.  Much like the ironies in a Douglas Adams book, "the block" has begun to take on more and more meaning as I see how deep it goes.  I recall being told by a White House staffer in 2010, "We don't know about any bi organizations", was that due to "the block"?  GLAAD doesn't list bisexual as one of the many communities it works with, is that also because they forgot to press Enter?  If one of the biggest companies in the world decides to erase your identity, will anyone notice?  
An S.E.P or 'Somebody Else's Problem field'...utilizes a person's natural tendency to ignore things they don't easily accept, like, for example, aliens at a cricket match. Any object around which an S.E.P is applied will cease to be noticed, because any problems one may have understanding it (and therefore accepting its existence) become Somebody Else's. - Douglas Adams, Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy
If you type in gay, lesbian or transgender into a Google search box, Google Instant Search begins to auto-complete the search while making relevant suggestions.  However when you begin to type in bisexual, there are no suggestions provided which lead many to believe there are no search results.  Since 2010, Google has blocked the word bisexual from its auto complete and Instant Search features so users have to go an extra step to see the million of results related to bi people, bisexuality, bi community, bisexual resources and bi organizations.  In 2010, Google Help Desk said that "the block" which included the words lesbian and bisexual was "a bug" and would be fixed.  After 2 years, the word lesbian has been unblocked but bisexual still remains on the list of words Google doesn't want you to find.


Google says Instant Search "helps you formulate a better search term by providing instant feedback".  If that's the case, why would Google block the nearly 12 million results for the terms bisexual suicide from appearing instantly?  As a bisexual advocate, that's a pretty important search term for me since the 2011 Bisexual Invisibility Report stated "One in two bi women and one in three bi men have attempted or seriously considered suicide. This is significantly higher than the rates for heterosexuals, lesbians, and gay men."  Indeed, this year on Reddit, a bisexual guy posted, "I have tried to commit suicide over me being a bi guy who says he is gay, its hard living a lie.I feel alone in this I looked on google to see if anyone was in my situation I FOUND NONE."  Not only is Google's block hurting the bisexual community, in this case and most likely in many others, Google's action may be helping to kill bisexual people.

Jim Larsen, Secretary/Treasurer of the Bisexual Organizing Project tells me, "One of the biggest issues facing bisexuals is isolation and lack of community.  When the #1 search engine in the world, makes it harder to find information and a community, it is terribly unfortunate."  Christina Chala in NY, NY agrees saying, "Combating negative attitudes, and basic invisibility, is my daily reality as a person attracted to people of many genders. It saddens me to see such an important resource (google) contribute to my invisibility." For more comments from bi people adversely affected by Google’s actions, please click here.
Lesbian - 641,000,000 - Unblocked
Gay - 1,160,000,00 - Unblocked
Bisexual - 51,500,000 - BLOCKED
Transgender - 19,800,000 - Unblocked
LGBT - 29,300,000 - Unblocked
Lesbian Gay Bisexual Transgender - 31,200,000 - BLOCKED
Earlier this year, actress Cynthia Nixon sparked controversy with her statements on her own history of sexual fluidity.  When bisexual people fall in love, often their past relationships are invalidated so that their new relationship makes more sense to gay or straight people.  Nixon said, "I don’t pull out the 'bisexual' word because nobody likes the bisexuals. Everybody likes to dump on the bisexuals.". And so Nixon became one of this year's sacrificial bisexuals, just another celebrity who states their truth of sexual fluidity only to have the "gay agenda" find it lacking.  I so wished I could send bisexual identified X-Men, Anna Paquin and Alan Cumming to her door with a spot of tea and some talking points because everyone DOES like to dump on us!  Bisexual people suffer the regular indignity of having our love questioned, disrespected and disparaged.  Radical bisexual writer, Shiri Eisner, has written up a monosexual privilege list for those not aware of just how much courage it takes to be proudly bisexual.  Eisner wisely states in her disclaimer, "Power inequalities exist all over the social map, and monosexuals are just as likely as anyone to be on the bad end of one of them."  How many gay and straight people who search Google every day are aware of how easy they have it?

1.  Society assures me that my sexual identity is real and that people like me exist.
2.  When disclosing my sexual identity to others, they believe it without requiring me to prove it.
3.  I can feel sure that upon disclosing my sexual identity, people accept that it’s my real/actual sexual identity (rather than anything other than I said).
4.  I am never considered closeted when disclosing my sexual identity.
5.  Perception/acceptance of my sexual identity is generally independent of my choices of relationships, partners and lifestyle.  - Shiri Eisner, Read the whole list on Radical Bi.
Often I find identifying as bisexual is akin to having multiple passports for different countries, all expired.  Since bisexual actress Anna Paquin isn't part of the gay nation, her marriage and recent pregnancy is subject to slight after slight by both gay and straight people.  Luckily, she persists, recently telling Zooey magazine, "For me, it’s not really an issue because I’m someone who believes being bisexual is actually a thing. It’s not made up. It’s not a lack of decision. It’s not being greedy or numerous other ignorant things I’ve heard at this point."  In a recent study published by the Journal of Bisexuality, researcher Brian Dodge said, "Men were saying explicitly that being bisexual, not having a community to be involved with, not having people they could disclose to, homosexual or heterosexual, was tied to their experiences of adverse mental health.  When I asked Google how they could reconcile their support for the LGBT community with their refusal to unblock the part of the community in direst need of support, a Google spokesperson said:
"As you say, we're strong LGBT supporters. Sometimes perfectly good search terms can trip up our algorithms that decide whether to show instant results. This can happen when our automatic filters detect a strong correlation on the (unfiltered) Internet between those terms and pornography. The effect varies from term to term, and keep in mind we handle billions of queries each day, 16% of which are new to us each day, across 146 languages. But we appreciate your feedback -- it's this kind of case that motivates us to keep working on our algorithms so we can get people the information they need as quickly as possible." - Google Spokesperson, July 2nd 2012
Google would like you to think this accident is something they shouldn’t be liable for, but their inaction perpetuates ignorance and has exponentially increased the size of the bisexual invisibility field.  SEO expert Peter Soltes tells me, "What can be tricky though, is if the Google algorithm accidentally decides that the word bisexuality is related to porn content as the Google Spokesperson claims, it can then lower positions of sites about bisexuality, as by these terms, the algorithm decided these webs are related to pornography."  Ellen Ruthstrom, President Bisexual Resource Center says “One of the most important things that organized bisexual groups do is create resources and connection for individuals trying to find community, primarily on the Internet. With Google's blocking of the word "bisexual," it makes it that much more difficult for those in need of support to find us.”

As a black bisexual woman I have often found equality to be a staggered evolution of society's common mind.  I usually quote Sojourner Truth to folks who ask me if bisexual people are important to the fight for same-sex civil rights.  "Ain’t I A Woman Too" thundered Sojourner from her lectern in 1851, to white women who were unwilling to include the rights of black women in the sufferage movement.  Years after white women won the right to vote, black women did too.  The center often takes too long to bleed outward, thus those most in need of equality are furthest from it.  But Sojourner Truth knew the shortest distance to justice for two groups of people both standing in line, for in the same speech she said, "If the first woman God ever made was strong enough to turn the world upside down all alone, these women together ought to be able to turn it back , and get it right side up again!"  We need every person who believes in equality to be counted, and we need them ALL proud and unafraid.  Here's hoping the "great Google algorithm in the sky" soon realizes that bisexual people are just like everyone else.  To provide Google with more feedback, visit here.

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