Did Google do wrong over Michelle Obama’s image, or is this totally, like, PC?

By Branko Brkic 26 November 2009

Here’s something new in media and censorship. It’s hard to assess whether the Google Inc image of Michelle Obama on a blog is “racially offensive”, when few people have seen it after it was disappeared from the web. First up, Google says its algorithm is not responsible for what you find on the web, it just guides you there. Good and well. But the bigger issue is whether an image on a blogger’s "Hot Girls" site is “racist” or even “offensive”. Google latterly put a text ad above the image titled "Offensive Search Results" that states: "Sometimes our search results can be offensive. We agree." So disturbed was the search engine giant by the bad publicity that it then went on to publish a letter that explained that its results "can include disturbing content, even from innocuous queries". It also notes that Google doesn't endorse content on these web sites. These are the kinds of things the Chinese, Saudis and many other censorious governments will latch onto fast. It’s really hard to think that a woman of Michelle Obama’s standing could have been photographed in any sort of compromising or offensive way. Rather, some blogger created a teenage-brained adjunct to a widely disseminated image of her by putting her in the context of a freshman fantasy. So the issue is contextual, and is about Obama’s perceived “dignity” and “rights”, and not about whether the image itself is “offensive” or “racist”. Even by adding a filthy caption or Photoshopped alteration, most people would agree that the image is not who the US president’s wife really is – it is a fabrication. It only becomes offensive when it has hate speech or pornography or violence and mutilation (and, no doubt, possible other considerations) associated with it. If this is what the image was about, then, yes, Google should can it. If not, then the nature of its “offensiveness” is surely open to debate. If we are wrong on this, let’s hear it! Read more: BusinessWeek


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