This entry was posted on Wednesday, November 25th, 2009 at 3:07 pm and is filed under Search Engine Optimisation.


BBC – Michelle Obama racist image sparks Google apology: Google has apologised over a racially offensive picture of Michelle Obama which appears when users search for images of the US first lady. The image comes top of the Google Images results for “Michelle Obama”. Google placed a notice over the picture titled “Offensive Search Results”, saying: “Sometimes our search results can be offensive. We agree.” But it refused to remove the image from its search. The White House has declined to comment.

Pardon me for jumping in on this debate (involving hahaha an African American hahaha portrayed hahahaha as a monkey hahaha), but I do believe I have something to add beyond a simple thought experiment:

1. The picture is no longer live at the page Google returns as the top result, therefore it fails the relevance test. All Google have to do is update their image database a little faster than glaciers move, and the problem goes away. Of course, the image may pop up again elsewhere, and the sites/pages that host it will have to be judged on their relevance, but at the moment they are defending a result without relevance, suggesting they haven’t really put much thought into the matter.

2. Google are at present refusing to remove some 50+ false claims that I’m a convicted paedophile from their servers, using free speech as an argument (when they can be bothered to reply), but I doubt they’ve put much thought into this, either.

In January 2009, I published on this website compelling evidence that a ‘terrorism expert’ had been falsifying evidence of extremism while selling related stories to tabloid newspapers. In March 2009, that same ‘terrorism expert’, posing as a Daily Mail reporter, falsely claimed that I was a convicted paedophile when posting comments to somewhere between 50-100 Blogger.com-hosted websites.

Despite police involvement, plus repeated emails and phone calls over the space of many months, I have never received anything other than a stock email from Google in response to my many requests that they remove this material, posted in contravention of their Content Policy and Terms of Service.

The writer was clearly engaging in a campaign of harassment, and clearly guilty of outright impersonation, but the stock reply I received did not address either of these points:

Thank you for your note. Please note that Blogger is a provider of content
creation tools, not a mediator of that content. We allow our users to
create blogs, but we don’t make any claims about the content of these
pages. We strongly believe in freedom of expression, even if a blog
contains unappealing or distasteful content or presents unpopular
viewpoints. We realize this may be frustrating and we regret any
inconvenience this may cause you. In cases where contact information for
the author is listed on the page, we recommend you working directly with
this person to have the content in question removed or changed.

(Unpopular viewpoints? Inconvenience? Fuck you, Google.)

Basically, what they are saying is that they don’t own the content on Blogger.com weblogs, but even if I were to accept this answer (that refuses to acknowledge the dual violation of their Content Policy and Terms of Service following the use of their servers for harassment and impersonation) many of these comments are on abandoned websites and were posted anonymously; there is no way to reach the (absent) site owner and the comments cannot be deleted by the man who wrote them, no matter how much he might want to undo what he’s done.

In short, the only visible owner (and potential beneficiary) of this content is Google Inc. who insist on maintaining vast swathes of wasteland for some reason.

Google is the only reason much of this information is still live…. and they refuse to even discuss the matter.

Is the content in keeping with the terms under which they host it? No.

Has anyone (other than Google) expressed a wish to maintain or defend the content? No.

Is it even relevant content? No.

So what the hell are Google playing at by continuing to host it, and how does this fit in with their ‘do no evil’ mantra?

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UPDATE – Some good news… for Michelle Obama:

Guardian – Michelle Obama ‘racist’ picture that is topping Google Images removed: A blog hosting an offensive image of Michelle Obama with monkey features has removed it and posted an apology. The image, which has been appearing at the top of search results when the words “Michelle Obama” are put into Google Images, was posted on a blog called Hot Girls, which is hosted by the Google-owned blog service, Blogger. Hot Girls’ owner has today removed the image, which appears to have originally been put up with a blog post on 21 October, and displayed an apology in Chinese with a very loose English translation. Google had refused to remove the offensive image from its picture search listings, despite complaints that it is racist, instead opting to run an ad next to it explaining its policy on how search engine results work. A spokesman for Google said that the Hot Girls blog and image may still temporarily appear when some users make Google Images searches but that it was coming out of the search engine’s indexing system.

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UPDATE – I’m reminded that Google’s commitment to free speech has its limits.