In all this brouhaha over Arvind Kejriwal’s retweet – “Stuck between a moron and a murderer….what now, India!?” – we decided to look up how Google autocomplete tags these worthies. After all, perceptions and stereotypes are made on the Internet these days.
Over the weekend, Twitter account @Amazing_Maps came up with a graphic showing the Internet stereotypes of US states. If you type “Why is Illinois so…” into Google, autocomplete suggests a word most frequently entered next in the search bar. For Illinois, the associated word is “corrupt”, revealing what is at the top of the mind for Google users when they think of US President Barack Obama’s constituency.
What then does the Internet reveal about assumptions made by netizens when it comes to Narendra Modi, Rahul Gandhi and Arvind Kejriwal? Far from the ‘murderer’ tag in Kejriwal’s retweet, the adjectives Google autocomplete came up with were “popular, famous and powerful” in that order, when we put the question “Why is Modi so…” (For Gujarat, however, the top result was ‘violent’) As for Rahul Gandhi, apparently what people wanted to know most was why he was so dumb. And, much to our amusement, when we applied the test to Arvind Kejriwal, the question uppermost in people’s minds was why he is fasting.
Moving on from personalities, we looked up the stereotypes tagged on to Indian states and cities. And those were revealing too about how labels are attached and identities formed, however blinkered they may be. Mumbai is ‘dirty’ and ‘famous’ while Delhi is ‘cold’ and ‘unsafe’. When Bangalore is so ‘expensive’ and ‘hot these days’, Chennai is ‘so boring’ and ‘conservative’.
Google autocomplete predictably wants to know why Kolkata is ‘poor’, ‘densely populated’ and ‘dirty’ although Guardian’s holiday hotspots of 2014 has Kolkata in fifth place calling it “a city on the move”. This just goes to show how far stereotypes can be from what is currently happening.
Not surprisingly, when it came to Kashmir, the top result was why it is ‘so important to India and Pakistan’ and Bihar was boxed ‘poor’ and ‘backward’.
The deeply held public assumptions Google revealed about India therefore were ‘poor’, ‘corrupt’ and ‘filthy’. About China, netizens were most curious about was why it was so ‘aggressive’, ‘polluted’ and ‘powerful’ and Pakistan, ‘bad’, ‘dangerous’ and ‘backward’.
Stereotypes, in general, are skewed highly towards the negative. No surprises there. Nevertheless we kept at it, trying to spot if Google had a compliment for any of India’s states. Well, it did. Why is Punjab so ‘fertile’, ‘rich’ and ‘famous’, the public wanted to know. And while Goa is ‘popular’, Kerala takes the cake: Why is Kerala so ‘literate’, ‘beautiful’ and ‘developed’, people want to know.