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In August 2023, I made a peculiar observation while searching for information about late Zimbabwean writer, Yvonne Vera. The first Google image result accompanying information about her was actually not an image of Vera. Rather, the photograph was of another renowned Zimbabwean writer, Tsitsi Dangarembga.

I wanted to believe it was some sort of technological glitch; perhaps the algorithm was out of whack that day (really, I should know better by now than to invest that sort of faith in technology). But upon running the same search again a few weeks later, it yielded the very same results. I posted about this on Twitter and LinkedIn and it would seem some of my connections sounded the alarm with Google. This led to the matter being resolved in under 24 hours; by the next day, the 4th of August 2023, a search for Yvonne Vera accurately returned a main image result of her.

The image of Dangarembga still, however, appeared among the general results for Vera. Since Google returns its results by crawling the internet (websites and internet pages) and searching the metadata of images, my guess is that the photograph of Dangarembga - which had showed up as the primary result for Vera - had initially been miscredited as an image of Vera at the source of publication. This points to human error which was then rectified, but which continued to have consequences on search results for Vera as the Google search engine algorithm continued to promote the page (and the image it carried) with the original error. I am not sure how long this image result of Dangarembga had been showing up as a result for Vera, but we know that Google's cache can last for any time up to 90 days.

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Image by and machines on Unsplash.