An altered image of First Lady Michelle Obama, which shows her face superimposed with monkey features, has sparked protests in cyberspace and harsh criticism against Google due to its severe racial overtones.
The controversial picture began showing up at the top of Google Image search results on Tuesday whenever a user typed in the name “Michelle Obama.” However, Google points out that complex algorithms determine the search results, and that “the beliefs and preferences of those who work at Google, as well as the opinions of the general public, do not determine or impact our search results.”
According to The Guardian, the image came from a blog called Hot Girls, which is hosted by Google’s Blogger platform. After the controversy erupted, the owner of the blog removed the image and issued an apology in Chinese with a loose English translation. Before the image was removed, however, Google added a disclaimer next to the image explaining the company’s position on the matter.
“Sometimes Google search results from the Internet can include disturbing content, even from innocuous queries,” the disclaimer reads. “We assure you that the views expressed by such sites are not in any way endorsed by Google.”
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The disclaimer goes on to explain that “search engines are a reflection of the content and information that is available on the Internet. A site's ranking in Google's search results relies heavily on computer algorithms using thousands of factors to calculate a page's relevance to a given query.”
Currently, a Google Image search for "Michelle Obama" does not retrieve
the offensive Michelle Obama image, but a spokesman for Google said
that the picture may resurface if more sites begin indexing it. In fact, if a user searches for the racist "michelle obama ape*" the controversial image in question appears first.
Google faced a similar controversy back in 2004. Users complained that they encountered anti-Semitic images when searching the word “Jew,” and Google responded in the same manner, providing web surfers with an apologetic disclaimer next to the offending images. Above photo, People Magazine.
(*Ed's Note: The above link to Google image search results may offend some users.)