Sunday, October 10, 2004

kid-safe "gay" searches

I did a paper when I was a freshman in college to look at how "kid-safe" search engines (such as Yahooligans, AOL Kids Only, and Ask Jeeves for Kids) responded to the terms "homosexuality" or "gay." To my shock, the responses were terribly limited. For example, back then in AOL Kids Only, if you did a search by the term "homosexuality" only one result would be returned, and it was a biography of Alexander the Great. Similar results were yielded by the others. It was very dissapointing. If I was a 12 or 13 year old struggling with my sexuality and turning to a search engine that I had been taught to use as "safe," it would have done me no good.

Based on our discussions last week, I decided to go back and do similar searches. I can't seem to find AOL Kids Only anywhere, so maybe they took it down in the past few years, but Ask Jeeves for Kids and Yahooligans are still up. The search today yielded COMPLETELY different results. Typing the word "gay" in to yields a question set with very relevant questions such as "What should I do if I think I'm gay/lesbian?" and "How do I know if I am gay/lesbian/bisexual?" These questions link to reputable support sites such as PFLAG and the Gay, Lesbian, and Straight Education Network. Typing "gay" into Yahooligans yields an entire category match which similar resources as Ask Jeeves for kids.

I'm pleasantly surprised. These resources were simply not indexed by "kid-safe" search engines six years ago.


Blogger Joseph Lorenzo Hall said...

Totally cool, Jesse... having not grown up gay, I have no idea what difference this would make, but I suspect it would be quite big. Yay!

However, I'd like to discuss another issue along these lines... last week, a gay rights activist, FannyAnn Eddy, was murdered in Sierra Leone. Further, I've read (in this week's Economist) that homosexuality is illegal in most African countries and that LGBT people are only truly tolerated in South Africa and Burundi (which has a tribe that has an longstanding and accepted history of lesbianism). I could understand how having this information (that you describe in your post) out on the Internet could be a good thing in a hostile climate such as Africa. But, what I fear is that "exporting American values" such as homosexuality could lead to crackdowns in places like Africa where the law is in direct conflict.

What's the best way to make sure this information gets out there and as few people as possible are killed? Should special attention be paid to presenting this information differently for different audiences (as it is for American/westernized audiences, with some disclaimers and additional information for audiences in very repressive environments)?

5:13 PM  
Blogger yardi said...

Jesse - that is really fascinating. I suspect a lot of it has to do with both the exponential increase of internet content in general, but also the increase of awareness of gay issues offline. With subjects like gay marriage, in SF and Mass in particular, it is a mainstream item on the news.

I will be writing my final paper on domestic violence on the web and I'm hoping that it will also see an increase in awareness and that people who need help can do a similar search to find what they need. Any public discussions of domestic violence were completely pushed under the rug until about the 70s and really have only recently become accepted in the public so I think for the same reasons it will see an increase in web availability in the coming years (and it already has to a large extent).

11:38 PM  
Blogger yardi said...

Hmmm... this isn't directly relevant to our class but on the subject of domestic violence and issues of information and privacy, this article was linked from the site that Joe mentioned above
New Rules Require Data Collection on Battered Women in Shelters

11:49 PM  
Blogger yardi said...

This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

11:50 PM  
Blogger Jesse Mendelsohn said...

The BBC does continuous reporting on gay issues in Africa. They constantly have features, and about 6 months ago they released an entire issue of BBC magazine dedicated to it. The US media rarely reports on gay issues anywhere other than here.

Here are some good articles:

1:47 PM  

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