On Michelle Obama Pictures, Google Stands Firm

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Google's reluctance to tweak search results that promote a racist caricature of Michelle Obama sparked an intense debate over freedom of speech and policing the Internet. In the past few days, an image depicting the First Lady as a monkey skyrocketed to the top of Google's image results. Responding to a flurry of criticism, the Web juggernaut responded by placing an apology for offensive results in advertisements above the image, but also stated that the integrity of its results was more important than blocking the picture. Online pundits were quick to chime in on the implications of Google's response:

  • Don't Judge a Company by its Search Results, says Gawker's Adrian Chen. "It's hard not to agree with Google on this: If they start removing every image someone finds offensive, then the only results left will be of babies dressed up as flowers ... But it's also hard not to really wish that picture was gone."
  • Wrong Message to the World, according to Chattahbox. "Despite Google's policy, I'm sickened and saddened that people around the world searching for an image of our First Lady would see the offensive doctored photo, as the first image result."
  • That's Just the Internet, Sadly, says The Guardian's Charles Arthur. Arther says there's not too much anyone can do considering the Internet is "a place where pretty much anyone can put anything up ... That's the risk one takes with free speech: it includes the freedom to offend."
  • Porno Filter Works for Racism Disgrasian noticed that the racist Michelle Obama image came up when searching with "moderate" and "strict" search filters, but not when searching with SafeSearch off, the image was nowhere to be found. "Mostly you just pull up a lot of adorable pictures of POTUS and FLOTUS together," she says. "Guess I have a lot more in common with the legions of internet pervs than I thought."

This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.