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 Google Images search results for “Michelle Obama”.
Google placed a notice over the image titled “Offensive Search Results”, saying: “Sometimes our search results can be offensive. We agree.” But it refused to remove the picture from its search results. The White House has declined to comment.
Users who click on the notice above the image are directed to a statement from Google which explains that its results “can include disturbing content, even from innocuous queries”. “We apologize if you’ve had an upsetting experience using Google,” the company says.
Google says a website’s ranking in its search results relies heavily on computer algorithms, using thousands of factors to calculate a page’s relevance to a given query. But the search engine says it does not remove images simply because it receives complaints.
“Google views the integrity of our search results as an extremely important priority,” it says. “Accordingly, we do not remove a page from our search results simply because its content is unpopular or because we receive complaints concerning it.”
‘Very slippery slope’
However, the California-based web giant says it will take down certain images, if required by law to do so. A spokesman for Google, Scott Rubin, would not give details on how the image ended up as top result for the wife of President Barack Obama.
David Vise, a Pulitzer prize-winning journalist and author of The Google Story, told the BBC that Google results get to the top based on popularity, not because of any ranking system used by the search engine.
He added: “If Google got a call from the White House telling them it’s against the law to have an offensive image of this kind which portrays the first lady in a racist manner as a monkey or an ape, then they would be obliged to take it down and I’m sure they would do so immediately.”
But he said it would be a “very slippery slope” if Google were to try to police the limits of free speech. “Once you begin to block images, who is to say. It’s like the Supreme Court of the United States once said, ‘what is pornography?’ Well we can’t define it, but we know it when we see it.”