A "Perspectival" Mirror of the Elephant

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2024-05-11 18:30:05

Many people turn to Internet-based, software platforms such as Google, YouTube, Wikipedia, and more recently ChatGPT to find the answers to their questions. Most people tend to trust Google Search when it states that its mission is to deliver information from "many angles so you can form your own understanding of the world."3 Yet, our work finds that queries involving complex topics—for example, Buddhism, liberalism, colonization, Iran, and America—yield results focused on a narrow set of culturally dominant views, and these views are correlated with the language used in the search phrase. We call this phenomenon language bias, and this article shows how it occurs using the example of two complex topics: Buddhism and liberalism. Language bias sets a strong yet invisible cultural barrier online with serious socio-political implications for how these platforms hinder efforts to reach across societal divides. 

Buddhism means different things to different cultures. To Westerners, Buddhism is generally associated with spirituality, meditation, and philosophy, while many Vietnamese associate it with the lunar calendar, holidays, mother god worship, and a lifestyle capable of bringing good luck. In Thai culture, many regard Buddhism as a canopy against demons. In Nepal, people typically see Buddhism as a protector that destroys bad karma.

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