A campaign to tackle the gender bias that powers search results has gone global as female sports stars who are overlooked by the internet fight to improve the facts. The Drum speaks to the Kiwi team behind the campaign to find out why non-gendered search results matter.
If you type “When is the next World Cup?” A search engine on Google will tell you it’s the 2026 FIFA World Cup, which is correct if you’re talking about the next men’s world cup. However, the correct answer is actually this year, 2023, when the Women’s World Cup is hosted by Australia and New Zealand.
While some may scoff at this and call it childish, the inescapable fact is that the most popular search engine answers were actually wrong. At least five pages of search results in, I gave up on my search at that point.
This example is just one of hundreds of examples of search engines delivering gendered results for questions that are factually incorrect. This is how the idea for Correct The internet campaign was originally conceived.
“We were trying to find facts about the FIFA Women’s World Cup,” explains Gary Steele, chief creative officer of DDB Aotearoa NZ, which has teamed up with former New Zealand footballer and founder of women’s sports marketing consultancy Rebecca Sowden. A team of heroines to create the campaign.
“We were trying to look at all the data in the game, the top players, and we were surprised that every time we searched for something, we could never get the right results.
“When we asked who scored the most international goals in football, the search result was Cristiano Ronaldo. But when you look at the facts, it’s Christine Sinclair, and by a huge margin she’s scored 190 goals to his 118. Surprisingly, there are ten other female players who have also scored more goals than Cristiano Ronaldo, but they don’t even appear in the search results.
“We found this amazing and the more we dived into it, we realized it’s not just football, it’s every sport you can think of. The results will always show a male, while factually and statistically there is almost always a female athlete. whoever has the better stats,” says Steele.
It Fix the internet campaign aims to change this, striving to give women’s sport and sportswomen the recognition they deserve.
According to Sowden, search listings create a negative cycle that perpetuates the visibility issues the sport continues to struggle with. This lack of visibility leads to ratings, attendance, sponsorships and payouts, and it’s a cycle that keeps going in circles.
Steele says the problem is bigger than women’s sports.
“If you search on any search engine, what is the tallest building in the world? you will get Burj Khalifa. Actually the correct answer. The same should happen when you search for “who has the most international goals”. That should be the actual result. what race you are, no matter where you’re from, it should give you factual information because it’s about Google and search engines.”
There is concern that the gender bias that affects search algorithms and the results served also affects the facts.
“Today’s youth are searching for school projects on Google, and that means they can be doing projects based on the wrong information. And that’s important to us,” adds Steele.
Awareness and action
It is true that an Internet campaign has two elements. the first aims to promote widespread awareness of the problem that factual information is not being provided to the right people at the right time.
To further raise awareness of the campaign, Correct The Internet has teamed up with the United Nations as part of its commitment to the development and empowerment of women through digital innovation and information technology. The partnership with the United Nations aims to promote the campaign to a wider audience and fits perfectly with this year’s theme of International Women’s Day. Digital-ALL:.
The second element of the campaign helps pressure the engineering side of search engines to provide feedback on results to drive tangible change. To do this, the team created a tool that works for Google, Bing, Baidu and Yahoo, and allows people to provide feedback on search results to correct incorrect results.
Sowden and Steele are keen to point out that the problem is not just Google, as the problem is widespread and all search engine algorithms need to be fixed.
“The bottom line,” says Sowden. “Does it give them the ammunition and the tools to work together to fix this, because really we the people created this, the search engines just reflect and give us what we want?”
Steele agrees. “I think at the end of the day, Correct the Internet wants to work with as many people as possible, to raise as much awareness as possible. search engines to present the correct facts.”
Helping to elevate women’s sports
The campaign also hopes to capitalize on the momentum surrounding women’s sports and help elevate it among sports fans around the world. This is particularly relevant for Sowden, who as a former player is frustrated by the lack of support and recognition in women’s sport.
The campaign aims to capitalize on the growing momentum around the women’s game, with New Zealand’s Black Ferns supporting the Rugby World Cup and the British Lionesses at the European Championship.
“We felt that momentum during the Rugby World Cup, the Euros and the upcoming World Cup. We knew the US soccer team, we were in New Zealand to play the Ferns, so we decided it was a great time to launch. Team USA is the epitome of gender equality activists and [US striker] Alex Morgan picked up the campaign instantly, that was the launch pad, it took off from there,” says Sowden.
The campaign has received significant support around the world, with support from sports stars Billie Jean King and Ruby Tui, women’s sports associations, sports teams and other organizations. However, Sowden admits it would be great to see more athlete support.
“Yeah, I mean I’d like to see more. But regardless of gender, I think this is a problem for society as a whole. It’s not men vs. women. It is for the benefit of society. So we’d like to see more men. Athletes and men’s associations are behind this.”
Steele agrees. “The whole reason we’re in this situation is because human bias has affected the algorithms, and it’s human bias, male and female.
“The more people respond and make female athletes more visible, the more normal it becomes, the more these sponsorships accelerate, the more the pay gap closes, and all these issues will start to just clear up, it’s settled.
“That’s where you get the power of the human race to make a difference, and it’s going to take all of us. The slogan of the campaign is: “Together, we made it. Together we can fix it.” It is not insurmountable, people need to be aware.”