Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Google Apologizes Over Racist Michelle Obama Image, but What's Up With the Chinese Sorry at Hot Girls?

What to say, what to say. I just learned about the Google image search flap over an offensive Michelle Obama image coming from a blog called Hot Girls. The blog has removed the offensive image and posted an apology in Chinese (don't know if the blog owner is Chinese or making another statement, but here's the screenshot.), and Google has apologized. In the meantime, the Hot Girls Blog has more than 1300 comments where the monkey photo was first posted.

This is not the first time this Michelle Obama monkey image has been on the Web. I'm pretty sure I saw it or one similar to it during the campaign and also when the South Carolina dummy Rusty Depass said Michelle Obama descended from gorillas and then defended himself with statements about evolution in education, and possibly again when that New York Post published the offensive Obama cartoon after that chimp nearly beat that woman to death, and so, I figured the monkey imagery would just be par for the course from racist idiots while Obama is in office. I believe in confronting this stuff, but a black person will make him or herself crazy addressing every single instance of it.

Bottom line is Google has issued an apology because it refused to remove the picture from its search results. After all, it's a computer algorithm that pushes those images to the top of Google depending on how many people are searching for it and linking to it. No person at Google places images in order, but try using the word algorithm in a conversation with the average American.

Anyway, I didn't learn of the caricature's infamous rise on the search engine through a blog or Twitter but was tipped off by my own blog's stats. I couldn't figure out why I was suddenly getting so many hits via Google image search for Michelle Obama, and then I realized a controversy must be underfoot because somebody searched specifically for "Michelle Obamba bad."

If you've missed this story the way I have, here's the gist in article excerpts but to make the recap ending clear, the photo has been removed by the blog owner, Google has issued an apology while an expert says you can't regulate free speech.

From USA Today's story, November 25, with updates.
Update at 10 a.m. ET: The blog site that hosted the photo has now taken it down. The operator of the Hot Girls site where the image had appeared has now posted a message in Chinese under the title "Michelle Obama," with this statement in awkward English below it:

I am very sorry for this article, and that 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.

Earlier posting: Google is apologizing over a racially offensive picture of Michelle Obama that pops up when users search for images of the First Lady -- but refuses to take it down. (USA Today)

A November 24 post at Computerworld:

IDG News Service - The top-ranked result for U.S. first lady Michelle Obama on Google's image search engine is a racist caricature that depicted her with the face of a chimpanzee, just below a link to a suggested Google search for the terms "Michelle Obama Monkey."

The same image of Obama, which is currently hosted on Google's Blogger service, has appeared among the top image results on Google for at least two weeks, according to user complaints on Google's help forum.

The Obama caricature does not appear among the top image results for "Michelle Obama" on Microsoft's rival Bing search engine.

The image also does not appear among image results when users search for "Michelle Obama" on its main search engine, only on the results produced by the image search engine.

"Google views the integrity of our search results as an extremely important priority. Accordingly, we do not remove a page from our search results, or images from our Google Images results, simply because the content is in very poor taste or because we receive complaints concerning it," a Google employee named Jem wrote on the forum last week. (Computerworld)

From today, which started poking this story last week.

Google has removed the racist image of First Lady Michelle Obama from their images search.

Google employee Jem left this comment in the Google Web Search help forum…

“If you recently used Google Images to search for the term [ Michelle Obama ], you may have seen results that were very disturbing. We assure you that the views expressed by the image in your results are not in any way endorsed by Google.

As with Google Web Search, ranking in Google Images results relies heavily on computer algorithms using thousands of factors to calculate a page’s relevance to a given query.

Individual citizens and public interest groups do periodically urge us to remove particular links or otherwise adjust search results. Although Google reserves the right to address such requests individually, Google views the integrity of our search results as an extremely important priority. Accordingly, we do not remove a page from our search results, or images from our Google Images results, simply because the content is in very poor taste or because we receive complaints concerning it. We will, however, remove pages from our results if we believe the image, page (or its site) violates our Webmaster Guidelines, if we believe we are required to do so by law, or at the request of the webmaster who is responsible for the image.

We apologize for the upsetting nature of the experience you had using Google Images and appreciate your taking the time to inform us about it. We will continue to improve the product based on your feedback to make sure that users find the most useful, relevant images through Google Images.”
Is it free speech?
David Vise, a Pulitzer prize-winning journalist and author of The Google Story, told the BBC the search engine's results get to the top based on popularity, not because of any ranking system by people.

He added: "If Google got a call from the White House telling them it's against the law to have an offensive image of this kind which portrays the first lady in a racist manner as a monkey or an ape, then they would be obliged to take it down and I'm sure they would do so immediately."

But he said it would be a "very slippery slope" if Google were to try to police the limits of free speech.

"Once you begin to block images, who is to say. It's like the Supreme Court of the United States once said, 'what is pornography?' Well we can't define it, but we know it when we see it." (BBC, November 25)
Yes, it's free speech. Racist free speech, hate speech, but free. However, free or not, we must be accountable to what comes out of our mouths and the images we create, so there's no such thing as free speech in the pure sense of freedom.

Almost as dumb as this monkey picture are the people who await a response from the White House on this nonsense. Hah!

Back to the Hot Girls apology in Chinese, I don't know if the blog owner is Chinese and therefore due to cultural ignorance didn't know how angry this picture would make people or if the blog owner is not Chinese but knows that some Chinese are racists and have been in the news lately for attacking a biracial, Chinese/black singer and so he/she is making a statement of another sort with the response in Chinese on the Hot Girls blog. I don't even know whether Hot Girls is a real blog with words and commentary or just some kind of image and video posts aggregator. All I know is there must be something more important that I should be doing right now than following up the ignorant, and so I'm off to do that.

Lagniappe: Earlier this year PPR_Scribe at My So-Called Post-Post-Racial Life examined the African-American as monkey, Obamas as monkeys issue.


Deb Rox said...

I've seen the image I believe you are talking about a few times during the election. So enraged. I would have assumed that the owner is making a point about Chinese governmental censorship, but that's just where my mind went. As you say, I'm not going to explore that blog to figure it out. Google's point is well made, but just as newspapers have free speech at the forfront buffered by ethical choices (not printing rape victim names, for example) they should make exceptions to their algorithm, and they will have to figure out how to be more consistent, equitable and transparent about that.

Vérité Parlant said...

You know, that is also a possibility, Deb, that it's some kind of statement about Chinese censorship, perhaps satirical allusions to the belief that we are now in a communist country or socialist nation where speech is moderated. If so, then we know who really posted that offensive image, but I won't say who. So much paranoia these days. LOL.

I should have my daughter's friend tell me if the Chinese says what the English says because it could also be somebody who knows nothing about anything. :-)

Your point on Google's responsibility is well taken.