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Google Apologizes For "Michelle Obama" Results 783

Posted by samzenpus
from the was-that-wrong? dept.
theodp writes "CNN reports that for most of the past week, when someone did a Google image search for 'Michelle Obama,' one of the first images that came up was a picture of the First Lady altered to resemble a monkey. After being hit with a firestorm of criticism over the episode, Google first banned the site that posted the photo, saying it could spread malware. Then, when the image appeared on another site, Google displayed the photo in its search results, but displayed an apologetic Google ad above it. On Wednesday morning, the racially offensive image appeared to have been removed from any Google Image searches for 'Michelle Obama.' Google officials could not immediately be reached for comment." Update — 15:38 GMT by SS: A reader pointed out that this article from the Guardian says the image was de-listed simply because it was removed from the blog where it was hosted rather than by any "deliberate" action from Google.
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Google Apologizes For "Michelle Obama" Results

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  • Good Job guys (Score:5, Informative)

    by AnonGCB (1398517) <`7spams' `at' `gmail.com'> on Thursday November 26, 2009 @05:02AM (#30234948)

    At the moment it suggests searching for "Michelle Obama monkey" when you search for "Michelle Obama"

    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      by olivier69 (1176459)
      The first suggestion is "michelle obama monkey" even when I only type "miche" in the search field !
    • Understandable (Score:5, Interesting)

      by anilg (961244) on Thursday November 26, 2009 @05:58AM (#30235248)

      Come on.. this is the just the Zeitgeist. There are more people searching for the picture in question rather than just her name. That would put the suggestion higher in the list (I'm guessing that's how the autocomplete algorithm works).

      Google isn't really to blame.. and them removing this item can be seen as censorship.

    • by AliasMarlowe (1042386) on Thursday November 26, 2009 @06:36AM (#30235448) Journal
      Humans are one species of ape, so of course there are clear similarities in appearance (and differences also, chiefly that humans are nearly bald over most of their bodies). For instance, we can recognize a wide range of facial expressions in apes, and associate them with comparable expressions in humans. These similarities are stronger or weaker depending on the moment, but exist for any human individual. Exploiting the similarity to parody a public figure as an ape or monkey is commonplace, and should be considered just another form of fair comment. This is not a race-specific issue - it applies equally across the board.

      Google's conduct in cowing to politically motivated whiners is reprehensible. It is apparently acceptable to compare George W Bush or Steve Ballmer to monkeys (or chimps, or whatever) in words or pictures as social or political comment. Tony Blair mostly got poodle comparisons, but there's probably a few monkey ones around also. RMS would be fair game as an ape, too, although he typically gets cave-man or neanderthal comparisons. The US cannot consider itself color-blind or non-racist until the same gamut of insults can be levelled at any public figure without fear of censorship or witch-hunting.
      • by twostix (1277166) on Thursday November 26, 2009 @07:51AM (#30235868)

        The hypocrisy and faux outrage of the left wing in the US is more than a little disturbing and starting to become a little overwhelming to the point that it's truly starting to taint my view of the entire movement. It's not like they don't remember 18 months ago when they were still doing the *exact same things* to the bush admin as is being done here. Calling them Nazi's, the underlying racism against Rice and Powell, calling Powell a pet, token black, etc (until he changed to their "side" that is), the photoshop fridays, etc.

        So where was this fake outrage and Googles swift action when the internet hoardes were photoshopping Condoleezza Rice to look like an http://images.google.com.au/images?hl=en&client=firefox-a&rls=com.ubuntu:en-US:official&um=1&q=Condoleezza+Rice&sa=N&start=105&ndsp=21 [google.com.au] african native ?

        Absolute hypocrites.

        • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

          by Xest (935314)

          What has this got to do with the left wing?

          Hypocrisy is using something like this, which is really bipartisan in treatment and trying to blame it on a particular political movement and then inferring from that that they are somehow the hypocrits.

          The reason there was no uproar when it was done to Bush and Rice is because they were almost universally hated by the majority of the media at that point, whilst Michelle Obama has managed to maintain her place as a media darling just as many others have before her

          • by The Moof (859402) on Thursday November 26, 2009 @12:41PM (#30237784)

            What has this got to do with the left wing?

            Here's the left wing bias: We never saw anything like this when Condolezza Rice was photoshopped (any of the numerous times). Another example is the "Joker Face" images. Do it to Obama and it's some sort of crazy Racist propaganda. Do it to Bush, and you get published in magazines for clever political satire. The bias is obviously there, since it seems any time it happens to the left, there's some huge controversy and stuff gets censored.

      • Calling Michelle Obama a monkey is more offensive than calling George Bush a monkey because in her case it is because of her race, not because of her person. In Bush's case it is a personal insult because of certain people's perception of him, personally, being clumsy and lacking intelligence.

        There is a difference

        • by 1s44c (552956) on Thursday November 26, 2009 @09:10AM (#30236222)

          Calling Michelle Obama a monkey is more offensive than calling George Bush a monkey because in her case it is because of her race, not because of her person. In Bush's case it is a personal insult because of certain people's perception of him, personally, being clumsy and lacking intelligence.

          There is a difference

          The difference is in your mind. You are claiming she is some special case due to her race and needs special protection. You are saying the rules that applied to Bush don't apply to her because Bush was a big strong white man and she is something less than that.

          This woman you are talking about has likely archived more in her life than you ever well so why is it you believe she needs your protection from people making photo shop mash-ups out of her face?

    • Re:Good Job guys (Score:5, Insightful)

      by swarsron (612788) on Thursday November 26, 2009 @06:49AM (#30235524)

      But where's the picture? "Michelle Obama monkey" doesn't find it. Why can't we link to it in the summary if it's clear that the whole discussion will be about a picture 99% didn't see?

    • by RobotRunAmok (595286) on Thursday November 26, 2009 @07:00AM (#30235590)

      You can only take it.

      Say what you want about the Right (and being an equal opportunity center-of-the-aisle kind of snark, I've said a lot...), they have much thicker skins than the Left, I've noticed. Every joke made about the current administration can never really be just a joke about the current administration, it's either borne of "racism" or a "disturbing indication of a growing violence and unrest." The recent SNL stuff is making my leftie friends apoplectic; when the same show skewered Bush and Cheney, my rightie friends were, like, "SNL? Is that still on?"

      Sure, it's all anecdotal, but you know I'm correct.

      I think that righties don't mind being un-hip. Many even carry it as a "badge of honor." (I am reminded here of bowtie-wearing Conservative pundit Tucker Carlson.) The lefties are mortified that they might somehow be un-cool, and that the Stewarts/Colberts/SNLs/Lettermans will turn on them. They need to be "in" on the joke, and not the butt of it, and if they ARE the butt of it, well, it can't really be a joke then, can it? It must be sedition and racism...

  • First post (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Thursday November 26, 2009 @05:03AM (#30234950)

    No one complained when Bush was made to look a monkey

    • by tacarat (696339) on Thursday November 26, 2009 @05:04AM (#30234958) Journal
      I know a few monkeys that did.
      • Re:First post (Score:5, Insightful)

        by tacarat (696339) on Thursday November 26, 2009 @05:15AM (#30235012) Journal
        Monkey jokes aside, why ban it? Why not just file the picture under the normal, changeable, filter? There's still freedom of speech and I can easily google the KKK website. Unpleasant for some, yes, but that's the flip side of avoiding censorship (as opposed to user enacted filtering).
        • Re:First post (Score:5, Insightful)

          by mcvos (645701) on Thursday November 26, 2009 @05:41AM (#30235134)

          Monkey jokes aside, why ban it?

          My thoughts exactly. I fully agree the image is in bad taste, but Google can't be held responsible for it, and they shouldn't feel responsible for it. Go blame the guy who put it on his website.

          • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

            by mjkjedi (717711)
            I agree completely. However, I'd guess it's just a political move. People are largely unable to distinguish Google from the internet at large (particularly when it's in the form of Google representing trends that aren't easily observable to anyone who doesn't, say, have an extra copy of the net kicking around). So they blame Google when the internet contains something they don't like, hence Google tries to avoid it. Just my $0.02.
          • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

            by aplusjimages (939458)
            don't just blame it on the guy who posted it, but also Google works on natural search. Blame the millions of people who searched for this picture using those keywords. This image coming up first just shows how racist americans still are. I say Google should have let it be. As disgusting as it is it represents a group of people in this period of history. You can't erase it like the Germans are trying to do with the Nazi history.

            And for those morons who are comparing this to George Bush's monkey, you all ar
        • Re:First post (Score:5, Informative)

          by Anonymous Coward on Thursday November 26, 2009 @05:45AM (#30235168)

          Looks like they did. Searching with SafeSearch off, 'michelle obama' returns relatively normal stuff, 'michelle obama monkey' shows it as the second result, and with moderate SafeSearch, 'michelle obama ape', the query _linked from the cnn article_, shows it as the first result, so it's definitely still there on Google.

          The original blogger took it down. The first mirror that shot it right back in to 1st place took it down, and then it left google's page rank caching for the 'Michelle Obama' query. Are we actually sure that Google did ANYTHING here? They might have marked the image offensive, which would [I assume, I know nothing of google's search results rankings] hide it from people with strict safesearch on, and severely downrank it on moderate and no safesearch results.

          • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

            by tacarat (696339)

            Are we actually sure that Google did ANYTHING here? They might have marked the image offensive, which would [I assume, I know nothing of google's search results rankings] hide it from people with strict safesearch on, and severely downrank it on moderate and no safesearch results.

            Good point. Deserves a point or two from anybody slinging them around, AC or not.

        • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

          by Seumas (6865)

          I agree that as incredibly offensive as it is, it is absolutely a protected form of political speech in as much as it is commentary (no matter how obscene and juvenile) about a celebrity, public figure, de facto political figure. Meanwhile, the every day person has to put up with actual libel on the internet that is not in any way merely a form of "free speech" or "political commentary" and there's no recourse for them - through Google or otherwise.

          It seems to me, then, that the best thing they could have d

    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      by mrsquid0 (1335303)

      You are joking, right? There were many complaints and objections to the various monkeyfied images of George W. Bush. I remember hearing one talk radio host saying that he wanted to charge the people responsible with treason.

  • by Shin-LaC (1333529) on Thursday November 26, 2009 @05:03AM (#30234954)
    They never did that for the "Bush chimp" pictures.
    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by Anonymous Coward

      Of course, that comparison wasn't racially charged.

      • by AndGodSed (968378) on Thursday November 26, 2009 @05:13AM (#30235006) Homepage Journal

        Why would a racially charged comparisson fall into a different category? And for that matter, IF a racially charged comparisson does fall into a special category why do Michele Obama images get removed and not the images that compare Robert Mugabe with a chimp?

        Are some people more equal than others?

        That said, I think stooping to doing something like this, or the Bush chimp images are in bad taste. The idiots who make images like these are the ones who should apologize, google is a gateway to the internet and not responsible for how other people use the internet.

        On that point, slippery slope time - will it be possible in future that "offensive" websites are removed from google search results on demand from groups such as governments in the future? I mean google does something similar for China wrt search results, how long before it spreads worldwide?

        • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

          by bmo (77928)

          Because Robert Mugabe deserves it.

          He turned Zimbabwe from a large exporter of food to the rest of southern africa to a net importer. When you make people eat grass so you can line your own pockets and the pockets of your friends and give farms through "land reform" to people who don't know how to farm (train them? hogwash!), you deserve every bit of criticism aimed your way.

          In my heart of hearts, I believe Mugabe is guilty of crimes against humanity for what he's done to Zimbabwe.

          Michelle Obama on the othe

          • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

            Michelle Obama on the other hand, does not deserve the same treatment.

            That's your political determination, then, and if comparing Mugabe to a chimp is not inherently racist then comparing any of the Obamas to a chimp is not necessarily racist by the same line of logic.

        • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

          by Kjella (173770)

          Why would a racially charged comparisson fall into a different category?

          If some guy gets beaten up in an argument between those two people, it's between them.
          If some guy gets beat up over his race, it's also a warning/threat to all others of his race.

          Racism is more like terrorism light, trying to dehumanize them, segregate them, make them fear walking the street because they're not safe for "their kind", vandalizing and destroying property to scare them way. We don't all like each other, but the world has many, many bad experiences creating classes of people, be it masters and

  • Bad move Google... (Score:3, Insightful)

    by VShael (62735) on Thursday November 26, 2009 @05:09AM (#30234980) Journal

    Though not terribly surprising, I suppose.

    Google did not act when there were images of the prophet in its search results, or offensive images from shock sites, or when Bush was made to look like a chimp. Bowing to pressure like this only re-inforces the belief that "new" media, as well as "old" media, has a liberal bias.

  • Responsible (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Lord Lode (1290856) on Thursday November 26, 2009 @05:12AM (#30235000)
    Since when is Google responsible for the content on the Internet?? I thought it just showed what was there, no matter what.
  • Nice to hear... (Score:4, Informative)

    by bhunachchicken (834243) on Thursday November 26, 2009 @05:26AM (#30235062) Homepage

    ... that Google is now being held accountable to what is available on the internet. That should take them down a peg or two.

  • RIDICULOUS... (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Bert64 (520050) <bert@sl[ ]dot.fi ... m ['ash' in gap]> on Thursday November 26, 2009 @05:29AM (#30235068) Homepage

    Google *should* just index what it finds, and thats what originally happened here...

    There are thousands of sites out there hosting insulting pictures of george bush, some where he looks like a monkey or is compared to one and some where he's likened to adolf hitler... If you're going to do something that makes you famous, then you will attract a huge amount of attention and inevitably some of it will be bad. That is well known up front and you can't go crying about it when it happens. Noone forced obama to stand, and now that he's won there will be a lot of attention given to him and his family, if he doesn't like that he should have thought about it before.

    Incidentally, when i woke up this morning i had no plans whatsoever to look for pictures of michelle obama on the internet, but having read this story i went looking for the picture in question and i'm sure a lot of other people will do the same. Had i stumbled across such pictures by accident without having read this story i probably wouldn't have thought anything of it because there are countless other derogatory pictures of famous people out there.

  • I side with Google (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Rik Sweeney (471717) on Thursday November 26, 2009 @05:30AM (#30235078) Homepage

    When Google said that it wouldn't remove the picture I was quite annoyed with them, but then it suddenly dawned on me that if they removed that picture, the very next thing that would happen is that some bright spark would speak up and say "Great, now take this one down too, because it's just as bad" and before you know it, the whole situation's lost control.

    It wasn't particularly fair on Google and they had to make a tough decision and I think in this instance they made the right one.

  • by AlgorithMan (937244) on Thursday November 26, 2009 @05:34AM (#30235108) Homepage
    why is that picture "racially offensive"?
    because the portrayed person is black?
    what if it was made by a black person?
    do we know it wasn't made by a black person?
    would it be racially offensive it it portrayed a white person and was made by a black person?

    if we want to reach REAL equality between all races, this also means we mustn't go nuts about an insult to a person from one race while not caring about the same insult to a person from another race (remember the bush/chimpanzee pictures?)
    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by julian67 (1022593)

      a)Why is that picture racially offensive?
      b)Would it be racially offensive it it portrayed a white person and was made by a black person?

      a) because black people have often *racially* abused in terms comparing them to monkeys. Examples: in UK until *relatively* recently people at soccer matches would wave bananas and shout 'monkey' at black players. This still happens a lot in eastern and some parts of southern Europe. In India and Pakistan black cricketers (i.e African/African-Carribean, usually those fro

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by thesandtiger (819476)

      I know, right? It's really awful when just because there has been a history of comparing black people to monkeys in the US as a way of denying their intelligence and humanity that some oversensitive people leap to the absurd conclusion that a picture of a black person being portrayed as a monkey is somehow race-baiting.

      I'm sure it was probably drawn because the artist felt that monkeys are cute, Michelle Obama is cute, and a Michelle Obama monkey is probably even cuter, right? Because it's just stupid to im

      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by AlgorithMan (937244)
        If that picture was made to insult black people in general (not michelle obama in particular), then why did the creator use a picture of her and not any other (non-famous) black person?

        I shrugged my shoulders when I saw that picture, just like I shrugged my shoulders when I saw the bush/chimpanzee pictures and you know why? because I deeply believe that we should get rid of discrimination. The meaning of that word is "making differences between races/genders/etc" in any way, but I think many people belie
  • This is disgusting (Score:4, Insightful)

    by QuantumG (50515) * <qg@biodome.org> on Thursday November 26, 2009 @05:36AM (#30235112) Homepage Journal

    and frightening.

    If you care about freedom of speech you have to be willing (and you should be proud) to let people say stuff you don't agree with.

    That includes racist bullshit too. Even if it is directed at the world's favorite US president's wife.

    Christ on a stick you guys are fail.

    • To be fair here (Score:3, Informative)

      by Beelzebud (1361137)
      They have not censored this image, or blocked it from their search. They just removed it from the top pick when you do an image search of her name. One of their suggested searches points you directly to the image. If you google Michelle Obama Monkey it comes up.
  • double standard? (Score:5, Insightful)

    by AaronPSU777 (938553) on Thursday November 26, 2009 @07:04AM (#30235616)
    If I do a GIS for "Laura Bush" on the very first page is a photoshopped picture of her naked. If I do a GIS for "George Bush" on the very first page is a picture of him eating a kitten, three pictures of him giving the finger, one picture making him look like a monkey, one picture making him look like some kind of ogre and one picture of a bush impersonator being spanked on his bare bottom. I think some are being overly sensitive here. Michelle Obama is an intelligent and successful woman, I think she can handle a corny picture on the internet.
  • by night_flyer (453866) on Thursday November 26, 2009 @08:19AM (#30235980) Homepage

    We've heard the argument before: "we are just a search engine, we arent responsible for child porn, warez, illegal mp3s or anythign like that that show up in our results"... unless its a picture of Michelle Obama... If you can flush that you have proved you can flush the other things as well. So whats next?

  • by nurb432 (527695) on Thursday November 26, 2009 @08:29AM (#30236016) Homepage Journal

    I don't know what is Where was this response when the 'bush monkey' pictures were all the rage? Oh, that's right, he's white.

  • Bing and Pixsy (Score:3, Insightful)

    by michaelmalak (91262) <michael@michaelmalak.com> on Thursday November 26, 2009 @08:41AM (#30236074) Homepage
    Of the eight or so image search engines I tried with "michelle obama monkey", only bing.com and pixsy.com come up with the image.

    Just trying to be prepared for when Tiananmen happens in the U.S.

  • by bigstrat2003 (1058574) * on Thursday November 26, 2009 @09:18AM (#30236274)

    Someone please explain to me how this is in any way a "racial slur". As far as I can tell, it's a political statement, and people are pulling the race card because they don't want to see the first lady criticized.

    The other comments all suggest that a monkey is somehow a racial slur, but I have never, ever heard it as a racial slur before today, so if it has been one in the past, it sure hasn't been very common. So yeah, someone please explain to me on what grounds people are calling this a racial slur, because it isn't and never has been as far as I've ever been aware.

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by east coast (590680)
      Monkey is a racial slur. As in porch monkey, for instance.

      But part of me knows where you're going. The monkey has long been a symbol of foolery or incompetence too. So when we see a commercial with a bunch of monkeys dressed in suits running around trashing a board room are we suppose to assume that they mean that Africans can't run a business or is it simply a joke against all corporate idiots at large?

      That's the real shame about the race card; you can't make an honest statement about another person or g
  • I don't get it... (Score:3, Insightful)

    by naasking (94116) <naasking@gmail.EEEcom minus threevowels> on Thursday November 26, 2009 @09:46AM (#30236460) Homepage

    Why is Google trying to censor its results? Presumably results are returned in page rank order, and sticking their fingers into this mess is going to open up a whole can of censorship/regulation woes.

  • by deacon (40533) on Thursday November 26, 2009 @10:34AM (#30236778) Journal

    Everyone knows you can only do tasteless jokes about a black woman or man when they are a conservative.

    Remember Condoleezza Rice?

    http://images.google.com/images?gbv=1&sa=1&q=condoleezza+rice+monkey&btnG=Search+images [google.com]

    Remember Michael Steele?

    http://images.google.com/images?gbv=1&hl=en&safe=off&sa=1&q=michael+steele+blackface&btnG=Search+images [google.com]

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