A racially offensive photo of First Lady Michelle Obama recently appeared as a top search result under Google Images, leading to a handful of complaints by Google users and requests to remove the image from the search results altogether. Of course Google did not remove the image, and reminded users that sometimes offensive images appeared in search results. Their exact statement earlier was “Sometimes our search results can be offensive. We agree.” And a further update has changed that statement to “Sometimes Google search results from the Internet can include disturbing content, even from innocuous queries. We assure you that the views expressed by such sites are not in any way endorsed by Google.”
Either way, Google is doing the right thing. To remove the image, however offensive, is a form of censorship, and at what point do you draw the line? The image has been removed from its linked location now, and in its place appears an apology written in very broken English. This is not Google’s doing, but the owner of the site that put the image up. The image itself is likely to appear again, elsewhere, and will probably be seen by a lot more people just because of the controversy surrounding it.
Censorship is never the answer to issues like this. The very nature of the World Wide Web, and search engines, would make such a thing impossible to maintain. And one person’s idea of “offensive” is another person’s definition of “satire.” I, for one, am glad for the diversity of not only my country, but my travels on the Internet as well. While I might find something offensive or off-color, I can easily avoid or back out of things I find that bother me. So can everyone else. As an American, I value my free speech highly, and do not want to see those rights trampled. The cost of that right of free speech is that occasionally, other people’s free speech may be offensive to us. But I support their right to free speech as much as I support my own right to it. You cannot have one without the other.
This story is making the rounds on all the news sites, and I expect there will be more about this in the days to come. Maybe we’ll get lucky and the American Thanksgiving Holiday will distract everyone and we can move on.
Google is the messenger, not the message, and I applaud them for doing the right thing in this case, which was to leave the image alone.
(Kudos to anyone who gets the Star Wars reference in the title.)