International Women’s Day In the “Correct the Internet” project on sporting milestones

Novak Djokovic recently started his 379th week at No. 1. It’s a record that will continue to grow as the Serbian ace chases more silverware.

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Djokovic officially broke that record on February 27, but here’s the thing. If you had googled at the beginning of February which tennis player had spent the most time in first place, Djokovic would have been there. The same would have happened if you googled this a year ago.

But he wasn’t the player who spent the most time at No. 1 in those moments. With 377 weeks at number 1, the answer until February 27 was Steffi Graff, the 22-time Grand Slam champion.

Djokovic paid tribute to Graff in an Instagram post about his record-breaking performance, but it begs the question: Why did Google give him a record he didn’t already deserve?

Unfortunately, this deviation is not an isolated case. Cristiano Ronaldo’s 118 international goals stands out when looking at who has scored the most international goals in football, although Canada’s Christine Sinclair has 72 more goals at this level. Since both players are still active, both numbers are likely to increase as well.

In 2020, Christine Sinclair broke the record for most goals scored in international football, overtaking Abby Wambach’s 184. She now sits at 190 and counting. Michael Janosz/ISI Photos/Getty Images

In 2010, according to Google, Sachin Tendulkar became the first player to score a double century at an ODI. But Belinda Clark scored a double century at an ODI in 1997, 13 years earlier.

The Black Ferns recently won their sixth Rugby World Cup, but Google will direct you to the All Blacks and their three World Cup titles if you’re looking for who has won the most Rugby World Cups.

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The pattern continues in all sports. Men are consistently featured in response to record breaking performances, even when women are the actual record holders.

This year’s International Women’s Day theme, “DigitALL: Innovation and Technology for Gender Equality,” seeks to highlight the various ways technology can also help advance gender equality, while recognizing that it has perpetuated systems and prejudices, counteracting gender equality.

So we’ve gotten into a situation where one of the most basic technologies we use every day – search engines – is providing us with factually incorrect information.

Rebecca Sowden, former New Zealand soccer player and founder of Team Heroine, a consulting and content hub for women’s sports marketing and sponsorship, was just one of many people who recognized this pattern and was part of a larger team that launched the Correct the Internet” started.

With sport as the lens, the goals of the project are simple.

“I think at the end of the day, everyone we speak to believes that if you type in a non-gendered question, you should get a non-gendered answer,” Sowden told ESPN.

The project is not about subjective attitudes and opinions, but about cold, hard facts and blatant inaccuracies.

The value of the project is obvious.

“It’s about increasing the visibility of female athletes and giving them the recognition they deserve,” Sowden explained.

“And it’s not just cross-sport, while we’re using female athletes and women’s sports to highlight the problem, these little prejudices are occurring throughout society, in technology, media and all kinds of ways.

“So if we don’t somehow correct these prejudices, it’s just going to perpetuate the system and make everything worse. And I think what’s worrying is when you look at new technology coming into the space, so AI software, ChatGPT, they just amplify these inaccuracies and it continues this negative cycle.”

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While the algorithms are failing women’s sport, they’re not necessarily to blame.

“It’s just them that reflect our inherent bias that we wrote into the system. So the good news is that we, as humans, can actually fix what we’ve created,” Sowden said.

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Correct the Internet has highlighted just a few of the factual inaccuracies in sports that come up when searching, and provides people with a step-by-step guide on how to submit feedback about the errors to the search engines.

It’s a campaign that requires people’s support, and so far people around the world have campaigned for it. Figures like Billie Jean King – whose work for gender equality is sport unmatched – and Alex Morgan – who spearheaded the US women’s national team in her fight for equal pay – shared the campaign, while organizations like the National Women’s Soccer League in the United States and the Lawn Tennis Association in London have asked how they can help.

The United Nations, however, was Sowden’s happiest supporter.

“It was a huge win for me when we got the United Nations on board. When you have the global champion of gender equality and esports and they go for it, we knew we were on to something,” she told ESPN.

The next step for the campaign will be to delve deeper into the search engines themselves, but for now, human power is doing most of the work.

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The Black Ferns have won a sixth Rugby World Cup but if you google which team has won the most Rugby World Cups their male counterparts will be offered the answer even though they have only won three. Greg Bowker/Getty Images

The question arises, if the erasure of women’s achievements and the fact that men are considered the standard is so ingrained in society, can we eliminate these prejudices? Can we actually fix the internet?

Sowden has already seen that we can do it. The Black Ferns caught New Zealand’s attention like never before with their World Cup win, allowing them to overcome the algorithm’s inherent bias for a time.

“We know from our experience down here in New Zealand around the Rugby World Cup that it is.”

“Before the Rugby World Cup, if you were looking for information on who won the most World Cups, you found the All Blacks.

“But when there was this massive cultural shift and interest in the Black Ferns and their Rugby World Cup win down here in New Zealand, we actually saw these algorithms shift to produce results around the Black Ferns , so we know it’s possible.”