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Did Google’s Search Algorithms Contribute to the Rise of Dylann Roof?

The Southern Poverty Law Center has uncovered how Google search algorithms influenced 22-year-old Emmanuel AME gunman Dylann Roof’s white supremacist ideology.

Before Roof was sentenced to death for murdering nine Black parishioners in Charleston, South Carolina, June 2015, the self-proclaimed white supremacist began researching racist literature on Google after the killing of Trayvon Martin in 2012. Roof’s manifesto detailed his metaphorical trip down the white supremacist rabbit hole when he typed “black on White crime” into a Google search.

From there, he found a web page run by the Council of Conservative Citizens, a group that routinely publishes misinformation claiming most whites are murdered by Black people. The misleading figures Roof discovered left an impression on him, so much so that he wrote in his manifesto he has “never been the same since that day.”

He claimed that the media should be focusing on these cases of Black-on-white murder instead of the Trayvon shooting. While FBI data shows whites are killed primarily by other whites, the SPLC said search algorithms did not give Roof the option to see such information.

That web page was just one of many. Roof went to oldest hate site on the web, Stormfront.org, where he was thrust into multiple discussions about Black-on-white crime. Then, he went to an alt-right site The Daily Stormer. All of these sites were made available because of Google’s search algorithms that prioritize monetization and “giving us what we want” over quality information, the SPLC claimed.

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