Michelle Obama, Google and a monkey

Posted on November 25, 2009

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Michelle Obama is the focus of another controversial image

It’s not every day you get those words together in a sentence. But today there is good reason for it, and it’s at the centre of another row over Google images.  

Today, when people googled the US first lady, the first image that popped up was a picture of Michelle Obama with monkey features. It was hosted on a blog called Hot Girls, but has now been removed and an apology issued in Chinese and translated into English in a pretty garbled way:   

“I am very sorry for this article, andthat this is the program automatically issued a document from the article. Do not the subject of race and politics make the discussion too radical and sincere hope that the world is very peaceful.” 

For an interestingly cryptic version of the story, where I first came across it, visit the BBC. For the whole story (which I found after being left confused by the BBC, which rarely happens), check out the Guardian. 

This has caused some outcry. The image could undoubtedly be viewed as racist, and prompted complaints from users to Google. Why didn’t they remove it? 

Google supports free speech, even if it's not pretty

Well, they couldn’t. Obviously. 

Who are Google to start censoring what we view? They simply bring information together. As Google spokesman Scott Rubin told the LA Times:      

“It’s offensive to many people, but that alone is not a reason to remove it from our search index. We have, in general, a bias toward free speech.”  

As Google expert David Vise told the Beeb, it would be a very slippery slope if the site were to start policing free speech. They can’t remove something just because people find it offensive – if they started that kind of business, where would it stop?
 
Who would draw the line?     

Google issued this response to “offensive content”, and took out an ad of its own to highlight it which it placed next to the picture when it appeared in search results. A fairly balanced response considering the fact that they are bound by their own rules of free speech (rightly so).   

Free speech might not always be pretty, but it’s vital to a civilised society. Even if some of the things said are not civil.     

NB. If you want to see the picture, you can find it here. All power to free speech, but I didn’t want to host that particular expression of it.     

Image taken from Story Accents’ photostream and Vermin Inc‘s photostream.

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