Graduation project from Beckmans succeeded in changing Google's search results

World White Web is an activist campaign created as a graduation project in Visual Communications at Beckmans last spring. The project has now changed Google's search results and has led both the BBC and Buzzfeed to highlight racism in search engines and technology.

An activist campaign with search engine optimization as the main tool

Johanna Burai, graphic designer and Beckmans alumna, is behind the high-profile project. She got the idea for the graduation project, after searching for images of hands on the internet and found that only white hands showed up in search results.

"Previously when you googled images for 'hand', only pictures of white hands appeared - no matter which continent you were on," says Johanna. "With the World White Web, I wanted to get people to help change a discriminatory result. On the site, there are six pictures of non-white hands that can be shared in social media like Facebook, Pinterest and Twitter which are highly ranked by Google. The more people who share the images, the greater the chance for a change in the search results," explains Johanna.

To really make it possible to change the Google search results, Johanna has worked with the simplest form of search optimization - to get as many people as possible to link to the site from other websites. She received good help from large magazines and news sites such as Dazed Digital and Al Jazeera, who wrote about the project and uploaded the pictures in May last year. Their websites are highly ranked by Google as they have many visitors. When they in turn linked to worldwhiteweb.net Johanna's activist campaign site with the images was also ranked higher in the search results on Google.

"Also, it has obviously been extremely important that so many have shared the images on social media, only on Facebook the images have been shared 3,500 times, and on Twitter even more," says Johanna.

Two of the images are now in Google's top search results

Now it is almost a year since she launched the website and the campaign has been successful.

"Two of the images from the project are now in the top search results when you google images of "hand", one of them is the very second result. It's great that the project has created a real change," says Johanna.

The project has opened a discussion about discriminating search results      

One of the goals of the project was to raise the issue of racist and discriminatory search results. And Johanna has certainly succeeded in that. Al Jazeera's The Stream made a whole program on racism in search engines and technology in connection with the launch of her site, and last weekshe was interviewed by BBC Newsbeat about the changed search results.

Challenge to find the right input in the project 

According to Johanna, the biggest challenge with the World White Web has been to find the right input in the project.

"I'm white myself and possess a lot of privileges by it, so from a theoretical and practical perspective, it has therefore been important to only work with people who have been subject to racism". 

But the project has also caused hatred and Johanna have received many threatening e-mails.

"But I expected that to happen. A major racist site published all of my contact information and invited its readers to harass me. But on the whole it has been a good response," says Johanna.

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