The ‘Dictionary’ feature of Google throws up definitions of words that one wishes to understand and searches for. When one searched for the term ‘co-religionist’, while the definition says, “an adherent of the same religion as another person”, the sentence that accompanies the definition to put the word in reference to context was deeply problematic and Hinduphobic. Up until yesterday, explaining the reference to context, Google defined ‘co-religionist’ with the sentence, “Hindu fundamentalists are admired by many of their co-religionists as virtuous people”.
After the widespread protest, however, Google seems to have taken cognisance of the blatant Hinduphobia and removed that sentence as an explanation for the definition of co-religionist from Google search in most countries. Currently, while Google is still drawing its definition from Lexicon by Oxford, the sentence does not appear in the ‘Dictionary’ feature. But this appear when one searches for the phrase in the USA. This means that while Google has removed the offending sentence for searches for rest of the world, it is yet to that for USA, where it is based.
How do we know it was Google that took cognisance and not Oxford
The Dictionary feature of Google draws its definitions from Lexicon, which is an online dictionary offering by Oxford Dictionary. Earlier Oxford offered an online solution called Oxford Dictionaries Online (ODO), now simply called ‘Oxford Dictionaries’ which is a collection of online dictionaries produced by Oxford University Press (OUP), the publishing house of the University of Oxford, which also publishes a number of print dictionaries, among other works.
Essentially, Lexicon is an offering by Oxford itself and the definitions it contains thereof are the responsibility of Oxford.
Lexicon is offered in collaboration with Dictionary.com, which according to various sources, is based on the latest version of Random House Unabridged Dictionary, with other content from the Collins English Dictionary, American Heritage Dictionary and others.
Since Google draws its definitions from Oxford, if it was not Google that had taken cognisance of the outrage regarding the definition of work co-relgionist and the attached Hinduphobia, then logic dictates that the definition should have been changed in the Lexicon dictionary itself.
However, that does not seem to be the case. When we checked Lexicon, we realised that the Hinduphobic statement is still added to the definition in Lexicon.
It thus stands to reason that it was indeed Google that took cognisance of the outrage and ensured that the Hinduphobic sentence was removed from the Google search.
How can we be absolutely sure?
To be absolutely sure, to ensure that the cache version was not interfering with our search results, and to ensure that Google is not playing tricks to provide a modified search result for users who search the word a second time around, we even masked our IP address using VPN and searched for the definition. Even with our IP masked, the Hinduphobic sentence defining the word ‘co-religionist’ does not show up on Google.
Even while searching through an ‘incognito’ window, which would clear the cookies of the browser, the result was the same.
But when did the same search setting the country as USA in the VPN tool, we found that the Hinduphobic term is still appearing in the search result.
In the past, Google has indeed taken cognisance of search results and auto-suggestions that were insensitive and hurt the sentiments of large sections of people.
In 2016, Google had removed autocomplete suggestions from its search engine that suggested the word “evil” at the end of these two phrases: “Are Jews…” and “Are women…” It left in place, however, the suggestion of “bad” when users type in “Are Muslims…”
Earlier, Google had deleted autocomplete suggestions as well, including when a court ordered it to stop suggesting the word “torrent” after the names of popular recording artists. Google removes autocomplete suggestions that include hate speech or sexually explicit or abusive language or that run afoul of the law, according to its policies.
Note: This report has been updated with additional information