WASHINGTON – After long campaigning efforts from US Muslim groups, Google has modified its first page results on Islamic terms search, to prevent the spread of misleading information about Islam and hateful anti-Muslim contents.
Imam Omar Suleiman, who has been at the forefront of activities to combat misleading information about his faith on the web, argued that Google and companies like it have a responsibility to combat “hate-filled Islamophobia” similar to how they work to suppress extremist propaganda, Anadolu Agency reported on Wednesday, July 26.
Suleiman said Google should differentiate between “criticism of Islam and hate-filled Islamophobia”, emphasizing the religion should not be infringed upon.
In the past, users on Google seeking information about the religion or its adherents would be presented prominently with what many criticized as propaganda from hate groups.
Taqiyya, which describes the circumstances under which a Muslim can conceal their belief in the face of persecution, is the sole term to feature a questionable website on the first page of results.
Google did not confirm the changes, yet referred to a recent blog post in which it said it was working to push back on what it called “offensive or clearly misleading content”.
“To help prevent the spread of such content for this subset of queries, we’ve improved our evaluation methods and made algorithmic updates to surface more authoritative content,” it said.
The Council on American-Islamic Relations, the U.S.’s largest Muslim advocacy group, said it tracked a 584 percent increase in anti-Muslim hate crimes from 2014 to 2016.
The Southern Poverty Law Center tracks hate incidents and groups in the U.S. and said it found hate groups increasing in number for the second consecutive year in 2016, fueled largely by a near-tripling of anti-Muslim groups.
“The growth has been accompanied by a rash of crimes targeting Muslims,” the center said in its annual report.
Imam Suleiman such voices should not be censored but “should not be featured prominently as authoritative voices.”
“Google does not need to silence criticism of Islam and honest discussions about Islam, but heavily funded hate groups that are able to work the SEOs to get their websites showing up on the first, second page – I think that’s deeply problematic,” the popular imam said, referring to search engine optimization.
“I don’t think Google has a responsibility to portray Muslims positively. I think Google has a responsibility to weed out fear-mongering and hate groups but I don’t want Google to silence critique of Islam, or critique of Muslims, or critique of Judaism, or Black Lives Matter — whatever it is.
“It’s a fair ask that when someone goes to Google they are not being presented with information from hate groups, and representatives of the faith, as well as respectable academics… as if they’re all on the same playing field.
“We’re not on the same playing field,” he added.