Algorithms without frontiers? How language-based algorithmic information disparities for suicide crisis information sustain digital divides over time in 17 countries

This study focuses on the changes in the global digital divide produced by language-based, algorithmic information disparities in relation to crisis-prevention resources for suicide available through the Google search engine. We used agent-based testing to emulate Google searches performed in 17 countries and in 16 different languages as a direct replication and extension of previous work. We compare data collected in 2017 with data collected in 2021. Our analyses revealed that Google searches in English from within the United States still have the highest likelihood of triggering the display of additional crisis-prevention information prominently shown in addition to the regular search results (i.e., Google’s suicide-prevention result). Searches in Spanish from within the United States are informationally disadvantaged. Display rates are only slightly lower in other English-speaking countries and when searches are performed in English. While information disparities and digital divides narrowed between 2017 and 2021, substantial differences in the display of crisis-prevention resources remain observable within multilingual countries, especially when other languages compete with English. In Bahrain, South Africa, and Sweden, the crisis-prevention information functionality seems unimplemented. Our findings suggest that the use of automated computational methods is both useful to continuously observe the implementation of new algorithmic functionalities and necessary to hold global media institutions accountable for their actions.

Scherr, S., Arendt, F., & Haim, M. (in press). Algorithms without frontiers? How language-based algorithmic information disparities for suicide crisis information sustain digital divides over time in 17 countries. Information, Communication & Society, Advance Online Publication. https://dx.doi.org/10.1080/1369118X.2022.2097017 (content_copy)

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