How Google’s Artificial Stupidity manipulates image search results in to propaganda messaging

How Google’s Artificial Stupidity manipulates image search results in to propaganda messaging

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CNBC has a story titled “Here’s how some of the wealthiest people are investing their cash”

The story is illustrated at the top with this photo

I used Google Image Search to learn more about the photo. Google scans the photo and interprets this photo as “richest 1 percent of americans” (that text was created by Google, not by me):

I discovered the photo is from a horse race in Britain, is not specific to wealth, and has no connection to the “richest 1 percent of americans”. In fact, the photo is of a group having a tail gate party in a grass parking lot on a costume dress up data at a horse racing venue in Britain.

Numerous media outlets used a fake photo to illustrate their stories on “wealth” (not just CNBC – this photo is used a lot), and second, Google incorrectly interprets the photo as “richest 1 percent of Americans”. Below, we take a look at how Google erroneously interprets this photo, and how this turns Google Search results into computational propaganda messaging.

Where the photo comes from

After changing the search criteria I found the photo is from the Royal Ascot horse race in Britain, which is described as “synonymous with sartorial elegance. This is upheld by a dress code, which invites guests to contribute to an occasion heralded as a major fashion event in its own right.” A hotel advertises the event with these photos:

An “Annual Badgeholder” membership costs from about 400 British pounds.  A “Iron Stand Membership” costs 1,165 British pounds.

While that may be expensive to you or I, this has no connection to the “richest 1 percent” nor to “americans”.

Learning that it came from the Royal Ascot horse races, I refined the search and found the original is from Getty Images with this description:

“England – Ascot – A formal picnic lunch for Royal Ascot racegoers on Ladies’ Day
In the middle of a field serving as a grass car park, three couples celebrate the Ladies’ Day event at Royal Ascot. Holding their glasses to toast a grand day out at this annual sporting event in the social calendar, the gentlemen are dressed in formal top hats and tails, the ladies in wide hats and summer dresses. Grinning and looking smug in their upp-class social status, they are seated eccentrically and comically around a plastic table with a tablecloth, two Candelabras and their picnic lunch plates full of fine food. (Photo by In Pictures Ltd./Corbis via Getty Images)”

The whole point of Ladies Day, some say, is to see all the outrageous hats!

“The real spectacle of Royal Ascot for most of us is the fashion parade of Ladies’ Day. Hats are de rigueur and they range from the bizarre to the beautiful. But usually, the more outrageous the better.”

This photo, then, is a group of horse racing enthusiasts having a tail gate party, in a grass parking lot, at the Royal Ascot in Great Britain on a costume dress up day. Google calls this the “richest 1 percent of americans”. US news media say it illustrates the top 1% of wealth in the United States.


Why does the news media routinely use fake photos as illustrations?

Our previous post looked at the use of a faked photo to illustrate a news article in a different context.

Reporters and editors frequently select photos to convey a specific message but often choose photos having nothing to do with the subject at hand. This use of fake photos is either intentional propaganda, laziness or incompetence.

Why does Google automatically add the “richest 1 percent of americans” to the search string?

Google’s image analysis algorithms identify this as a group of people sitting around a table. However, because numerous U.S. media have incorrectly used this photo to illustrate American “wealth” and in fact, on web news articles using the words “richest 1 percent of Americans”, Google’s artificial stupidity algorithms mistakenly believe this is a photo representing the “richest 1 percent of americans”.

Google’s error further reinforces the false conclusion that this photo represents the “richest 1 percent of americans”. If you search for that text in Google Images you’ll find a link to the CNBC photo which becomes the basis for the search result.

In other words, a circular argument relying on its own conclusion as justification for its conclusion. This is artificial stupidity!

  • Google’s error reinforces a fake image of how America’s wealthiest or richest spend their time.
  • Google has automated propaganda messaging, which will be the subject of a future post.
  • Google is a dangerous propaganda operation – intentional or not.
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