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Google fixes algorithm to stop ‘lesbian’ searches being so pornographic

Following a widespread online campaign, the search engine now shows more informative results

If you’ve ever searched for the word “lesbian” on Google, you’ll know that the results are far from informative (disclaimer: it’s just porn). But now, an algorithm change has made it so that’s no longer the case. Should anyone conducting more innocent searches, digging for information, exploring their sexuality, a list of more educational results will show on Google searches first.

A campaign led by Twitter account SEOlesbienne pointed out how Google searches for “gay” and “trans” brought up educational results like Wikipedia pages and articles, whereas anyone searching “lesbian” was met with sexualised pics of lesbian women, shot by and for the male gaze, naturally.

“I first started the hashtag #seolesbienne a night after my wife made me realise how ashamed I was to use the french word ‘lesbienne’ while in public. I discovered that I wasn’t the only one: this feeling is shared with too many lesbians!” Fanchon Mayaudon-Nehlig, a spokesperson for the #seolesbienne campaign, told Dazed.

“I remembered how disgusted I was the first time I typed ‘lesbian’ on Google as a teen questioning my romantic orientation. I was not prepared, and it was unfair to discover so many porn websites,” she explained.

French news site Numerama picked up on the news after seeing porn appear beneath Google’s Pride banner in memory of the Stonewall Riots. When the banner stopped appearing for lesbian-related terms, Google reportedly didn’t provide an explanation for its disappearance.

Pandu Nayak, Google’s vice president of search engine quality, later told the media outlet: “I find that these results are terrible, there is no doubt about it. We’re aware that there are problems like this, in many languages and different researches.” He went on to explain that the search engine has developed further algorithms to improve results. “We have taken measures in cases where, when there is reason for the word to be interpreted in a non-pornographic way, that interpretation is put forward,” he stated.

Anyone who now searchies “lesbian” will see news articles and informative content, including the lesbian Wikipedia page. These results appear even if Safe Search is not activated. “We are very glad our campaign worked so well,” Mayaudon-Nehlig told Dazed. “The hashtag #Seolesbienne did spread a lot, and we had the chance to be heard, but this was not the first time french lesbians tried to alert on how the word lesbian was treated as a dirty word especially on the internet, it’s been years! We are the product of their fight.”

However, Mayaudon-Nehlig notes there’s still a long way to go. “The European lesbian conference, for instance, are not allowed by Facebook to use the word ‘lesbian’ on their own Facebook page.”