Google’s Algorithm Is a Dark Continent

by Jídé Salawu

Sepia-toned 1890 postcard depicts Belgian steamer on the Congo, with strong 'Heart of Darkness' vibes
Postcard of steamer Bruxelles in Belgian Congo, published 1890 (public domain via Wikimedia Commons)

On June 23, 2024, the account Google in Africa (@googleafrica) on the service formerly known as Twitter posted the following message:

Here’s Africa’s most common game. No it’s not hide-and-seek with lions (although that sounds exciting). It’s Football! Share craziest football stories with us. We’re all about that Kick It [sic] life.

The now-deleted post was accompanied by an image of three kids running after a Health soccer ball on an open dusty lot in some unnamed rustic setting, with the caption, “What’s the most popular sport in Africa?”

Screenshot of deleted Google Africa tweet: "Here’s Africa’s most common game. No it’s not hide-and-seek with lions (although that sounds exciting). It’s Football! Share craziest football stories with us. We’re all about that Kick It [sic] life."
Image via Twitter

Football is, without question, a beloved sport across African countries, and one that bears the spirit of Pan-Africanism, but the racist undertone of the post was unmistakable. Within hours it had gained more than 1,300 retweets from Nigerians, South Africans, Zambians, Kenyans, and others of African descent lambasting its racist subtext. I jumped in myself, commenting that I’d be surprised to learn that Google in Africa’s Twitter account was run by an African, hilariously disturbing as that might sound.

The fact that an official Google account posted this tweet raises a number of questions about the politics of Big Tech. It also recalls the misgivings expressed by a large number of scholars, researchers, and other experts regarding bias in online searches and digital images, which have continued to espouse racist ideologies, and to reflect the long-discredited exoticization of the continent by the West. The internet is not a holy ground of democracy. It is instead, and increasingly, a playground where huge companies like Google, Facebook, and the service formerly known as Twitter continue to express their colonial biases unchecked.

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