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Americas

Google apologises for offensive Michelle Obama search result

Text by Tony Todd

Latest update : 2009-11-26

Google has apologised after a racially offensive image of US First Lady Michelle Obama became the top image in a search on her name. But how do such images get so high on the list?

Google said in a statement at 4pm (GMT +1): “The image has been removed from the page in question, and this has begun to be reflected in our search results. The image in question will shortly disappear from the first page of image search results. The reason it no longer appears is that it was removed from the blog. We did not remove the image from web results ourselves.”

 

Google, the world's biggest Internet advertising company, has apologised after it emerged that racially offensive images appear when users search for pictures of Michelle Obama using its search engines.

The image, which shows the US First Lady with a chimpanzee face superimposed over her own, comes top of the list when "Michelle Obama" is typed into the search box.

In a statement, Google acknowledged that sometimes search results can be offensive - but pointedly refused to remove the picture from its search results.

Getting to the top

Companies and organisations often invest huge sums of money to get their brand at the top of Google's search lists - but it is the activity of web users which is the biggest determining factor in what actually gets to the top.

Pages, or in this case images, which have a significant number of 'hits' are recognised as popular by Google's computers, which automatically "up" that page's rankings.

So evidently the offensive image in question of Michelle Obama must have been viewed a large number of times - either by individuals or artificially - for it to come so high in Google ranking system.

In a statement, Google said: "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."

Secret algorithms

Anicet Mbida, editor of French online IT magazine 01.net, told FRANCE 24 that the complexity of Google's systems means it is difficult to pin down exactly how the offensive image has become to popular.

"Nobody knows exactly how Google's algorithms work," he said. "They are a closely guarded secret.

"And how people actually get this kind of material to the top of the lists is very much a question of guesswork.

"Google is extremely efficient, but that efficiency means that disturbing results do crop up," he added.

"And a photo is extremely easy to copy and paste; it can be reproduced a huge number of times. Photos can propagate much more easily than text on the Internet.”

Bombing raid?

Google France communications manager Anne-Gabrielle Dauba told FRANCE 24 that web users can do what is known as "Google Bombing" to drive up the popularity of a particular page.

This "Google Bombing" could have been achieved by using large numbers of inbound links to boost its ranking on the search engine.
 

Date created : 2009-11-25

  • INTERNET

    Google will not remove racially offensive Michelle Obama image

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