Emily Drabinski (Long Island University) has published “Ideologies of Boring Things: The Internet and Infrastructures of Race,” a review of Safiya Umoja Noble’s (University of Southern California) forthcoming Algorithms of Oppression: How Search Engines Reinforce Racism in the Los Angeles Review of Books. Drabinski’s review draws attention to the ways infrastructures can be visible or invisible depending on one’s social and political positions, and highlights the ways Noble’s work challenges utopian notions of how the internet operates:
Noble contests this fantasy of the internet as equalizing device. Rather than focus on what it facilitates, she explores the internet as infrastructure, investigating what is hidden from view by mathematical algorithm. Noble argues instead that the web is instead a machine of oppression, a set of “digital decisions” that “reinforce oppressive social relationships and enact new modes of racial profiling.”
Drabinski goes on to note, “Coders need critical race theorists, suggests Noble, or at least workers who understand that frictionless digital infrastructures aren’t frictionless for everyone.” This sentiment likely resonates with those working in the digital humanities, and Noble’s critical approach to these issues as an LIS scholar is an exemplary intervention.
The book, which will be officially released on February 20, has garnered much attention online, though all to often the attention seems to underscore the arguments behind her book. As Melanie Ehrenkranz reported at Gizmodo, dismissive statements about the book from the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers History Center’s official Twitter account were met with strong criticism from fellow academics and, eventually, garnered an apology to Noble.