As we approach the 2020 U.S. presidential election, more and more Americans are turning to Google with important questions about politicians and policies. And, as of the time of this writing, if one of those questions involves looking up the term “Democratic Party” on the popular search engine, then those Americans would be led to believe that the party’s symbol is that of a rat.
Like, literally a rat. The Democratic Party’s symbol is, of course, a donkey. You would be forgiven for thinking otherwise, however, if you came across Google’s so-called Knowledge Panel which, on Monday afternoon, displayed a multicolored rodent in all its red-white-and-blue glory.
For the unfamiliar, the Knowledge Panel is an information box sitting on the right side of search results and, according to Google, is “meant to help you get a quick snapshot of information on a topic based on Google’s understanding of available content on the web.”
In this case, it’s clear that Google’s understanding is perhaps a bit lacking.
When reached for comment, a Google spokesperson suggested that if only the Democratic Party had taken the time to claim its Knowledge Panel then we wouldn’t be in this mess.
“Most images in Knowledge Panels are automatically generated from pages on the web,” wrote the spokesperson over email. “When errors are reported, we fix them quickly. We encourage people and organizations to claim their Knowledge Panels, which allows them to select a representative image.”
That’s right, in Google’s mind, the fault lies anywhere but at home. Notably, even after we heard back from Google, the incorrect image remained on the site.
Importantly, this is not the first time someone or some organization has manipulated Google’s Knowledge Panel. In May of 2018, for example, Google’s Knowledge Panel labeled the California GOP as Nazis.
That the Knowledge Panel had previously been used to defame a U.S. political party suggests Google should have a better system in place for preventing this kind of abuse. But, as with so many things in the world of tech, it’s much easier to outsource that work to the company’s users — whether or not they happen to have the public’s best interest in mind.
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