Should Google be responsible for censoring the internet?

Many people looking for pictures of Michelle Obama on Google today won’t necessarily see the picture posted here. Instead, they may see a doctored picture of the US first lady that has been branded racially offensive. It shows a superimposed image of an ape on Michelle Obama’s face.

Google has refused to remove the image, but has instead placed ads explaining how they work. The original website that posted the image has now removed it and apologised for any offence caused.

But should Google have removed the image? They say they believe in free speech and the internet should be open to all kinds of things and offensiveness alone is not enough to remove content. Or is it? Does it depend on the nature of the offence, who they’re offending etc? This blog has been talking about it.

Should the worlds biggest search engine censor this kind of stuff? Or is Google right to let free speech prevail?

41 Responses to “Should Google be responsible for censoring the internet?”

  1. 1 Julie P
    November 25, 2009 at 15:30

    As much as what took place to the image of First Lady Michelle Obama it is unacceptable to remove the image from the public domain. Images, art, words, thought are meant to be provocative, which encourages communication about topics of the day. The decision that was made by the originating website took it down and apologized by their own choosing, they are free to do as they please.

  2. 2 patti in cape coral
    November 25, 2009 at 15:33

    As offensive and in poor taste as I find it, I’m on the side of not censoring it.

  3. 3 T
    November 25, 2009 at 15:39

    If you don’t censor it, what could happen? It will called racist and someone could sue Google. Everyone’s responsible for their actions. Including Google.

  4. 4 Gudmundur (Iceland)
    November 25, 2009 at 16:06

    Google should not censore the internet AT ALL. They have however provided users with a way of removing (and ranking) results from their own search queries (for text only for now I believe) and expanding that to images would be a great move.
    These rankings, I do believe, affect the overall ranking of results displayed to users and as such, would sink offensive results to the bottom. This is a much better way of self-policing the search results listed instead of removing them completely.
    It does however lend itself to abuse (when groups of malicious users vote up something as a joke), which is unfortunate but can be monitored and potentially avoided.

  5. 5 Brad
    November 25, 2009 at 16:08

    In this case it should be taken down as it serves no other purpose that to ridicule the first lady because of her ethinc origin and that is unacceptable. If she had done or said something that made her come across as a fool then it would have been deserved – we do caricitures of people in public all the time but it typically follows some public faux pas.

    this picture has no basis except to offend and it is a lack of respect for the first lady and the office of the president of the United States, comon decency dictates it should be taken down.

  6. 6 Gary Paudler
    November 25, 2009 at 16:10

    I have enormous respect and admiration for the Obamas and think that Michelle is a very beautiful woman. I would personally like to knock the head off the cretin who created that image, but I think that Google is doing the right thing by not removing the image and publicly explaining themselves – I wish all companies were that responsible. I have a feeling that the Obamas would agree.

  7. 7 Roberto
    November 25, 2009 at 16:18

    RE “” But should Google have removed the image? “”

    ——— Why is the onus on Google?

    People need to start making better people to stop the millions of slings and arrows the world endures daily. The image was removed voluntarily, so what’s the problem now?

    When I step out into the world, I assume I may have to absorb a certain measure of insults regarding my intelligence, parentage, socioeconomic status, ect because that’s the way some people act.

  8. November 25, 2009 at 16:30

    President Obama is a constitutional lawyer who I would bet my bottom dollar would support Google’s decision not to censor the image despite its revolting nature. Censorship of certain things that affect national security is one thing, but a stupid picture is NOT one of them. The US government already censors things way too much. Using the internet is an active choice, not like flipping through a TV channel where one might “accidentally” be exposed to objectionable material. Seriously, is this really an issue?

  9. 9 JanB
    November 25, 2009 at 16:34

    Google did not post the image and there’s still this thing called freedom of speech, so no, Google doesn’t have to do anything about this. The fact that certain people are complaining to Google again proves that certain people in powerful positions should really follow an evening IT class sometimes because they keep making really dumb beginner mistakes when they talk about the internet, or worse, when they write legislation for it.

    If Michelle Obama has a problem with this picture she could sue the person who made it, but Google has nothing to do with it.
    Next thing you know they’ll want to censor phonebooks that happen to contain the numbers of criminals.

  10. November 25, 2009 at 16:45

    Oh, for heaven’s sake. A few years ago, we “Google bombed” the phrase “miserable failure” so that when you entered that into Google you got George Bush Jr.’s bio page on the White House website. I’m sure plenty of folk were offended by that.

    Although what this image doctorer has done is extremely disgusting, Google isn’t responsible for doing their job. Maybe if there weren’t so damned many racists that image wouldn’t come up at all.

    Remember all the blathering last week of people saying the hatred against Obama wasn’t racist? Yeah. Now you know the truth. Smoking gun. Wanna ask the world that question again?

    • 11 Jennifer
      November 25, 2009 at 17:41

      Hmmm, this is a good point. I wonder if this image was planted to play into this you are a “racist” theme? Thanks for bringing that up.

      Also, thanks for admitting that Bush was treated horribly. He was. I googled and found a photo of him with bunches of monkey faces on it. Was that racist?

  11. 12 patti in cape coral
    November 25, 2009 at 16:56

    I believe Google just took the image down because of a virus the image may have. I guess that’s kind of like getting Al Capone on tax evasion.

  12. 13 rob z.
    November 25, 2009 at 16:59

    For GOOGLE and others like them;they should not censor anything,unless the source of the information asks for it.
    As for altered photos and information published that offends an individual,if that person who is the object of the offence wants to take action.They should go after the one who created the material,not GOOGLE or any other search engine.
    I like the Obamas,but cheap shots come with the position.Freedom of speach is more important than pictures and statements made in poor taste.
    Rob in Florida

  13. 14 steve
    November 25, 2009 at 17:02

    Another example of doublestandards, was that pointing out Bushisms, like the “internets” or “the google” is funny. If you mention that Obama said there are “57 states” you are called a racist because you are criticizing Obama.

  14. 15 David In Oregon
    November 25, 2009 at 17:06

    I’m glad Google is guarding freedom of communication, However childish, or viciously racist, the intent in this case, it does remind us that many of our fellow Americans occupy a parallel reality.

    It would be interesting if the element of anonymity were removed from all internet communications, so the community might be in a position to know what to expect from certain or it’s members. People should be free to stand behind their statements and opinions.

  15. 16 James
    November 25, 2009 at 17:07

    No! Parents have got to take back control of their children!

  16. 17 Alan in Arizona
    November 25, 2009 at 17:22

    Expecting GOOGLE to clean up the net, is like expecting the breeder of your dog to pickup it’s messes when you go for a walk!

    Freedom of speech, creativity and expression can not be denied! Slanderous and Libelous text should be another matter and dealt with according to the law. But humorous art, wither drawn, painted or as Photo based digital art is totally separate. You wouldn’t expect the Musee Du Louvre to remove a painting because a breast is showing and someone is offended. Lets grow up world. If you don’t like it, look at something else and stop crying!

  17. 18 guykaks
    November 25, 2009 at 17:24

    in some sense Yes but we should not blame it tottally!

  18. 19 Jennifer
    November 25, 2009 at 17:36

    This photo is not appropriate however to censor someone’s right to freedom of speech is also inappropriate.

    If we will be apologizing for this then I do believe that we owe some apologies and ads displaying them to others for offending them; their families.

    I am reminded of the way that many others have been treated in the past and even today. We could talk about George Bush, Dick Cheney, Sarah Palin’s children, etc. Michelle Obama, as First Lady, should not be subject to the same standards of treatment that others get and have gotten in the past? If we think that’s true; that’s kind of scary.

    Like James said, I think the thing that is most important in this case is parents talking to their children about what is and is not acceptable. That’s where it starts; teaching kids those things called values that so many people just hate because they are perceived as “judgmental”.

    Oh my; I really do think this is a double standard!

  19. 20 Tom D Ford
    November 25, 2009 at 17:36

    Google and other internet providers already censor some things that are illegal, child porn, etc, so we know that they can and will.

    But I don’t know how they could prevent american Conservative Republicans from posting such images of First Lady of the United States, Michelle Obama. I don’t know what US law would even possibly apply. In the US, political people are pretty much fair game as far as free speech as long as you don’t threaten them in any way, and I remember seeing cartoon images of “W” with monkey ears and the like. But the “W” images were about silliness, about his incompetent speech and policies, not racism.

    I believe that UK law would be against “defaming” her with an image like that but I don’t know what the limits are and I am not sure how they would define an image like that.

    I won’t search out that image, I am not interested in such racist stuff, but I bet that it is making the rounds in Conservative Republican emails and web sites.

  20. 21 Keth from Jamaica
    November 25, 2009 at 17:45

    I’m sure if Google had the desire to self-censor..even to benchmark a high industry standard, they could do it. It wouldn’t be difficult – tedious (given the number of warped minds that now have access to the www) but not difficult.

    Distorting the First Lady’s image only proves my point that bigots are alive and well in those yet-to-be United States of America! And now they are getting hot under the collar! Somebody should trace the url to see if this person is also ‘against health care reform (lol).

  21. 22 Mike in Seattle
    November 25, 2009 at 18:03

    Sorry, it’s not any organization’s right or responsibility to censor the internet. If we don’t like what we see, we should condemn the message, not the person who organizes all of the messages so that they can easily be found.

  22. November 25, 2009 at 18:10

    Long live liberty,there are statute laws to deal with offences against,race,sex and many other things.So go and see a lawer,and don’t pester with petty censorship.

  23. 24 Tom K in Mpls
    November 25, 2009 at 18:34

    There is a huge difference between censorship and maintaining a product. Google is a product. If they choose to limit certain uses of their product, in any way, it is their choice. Some will hate them for it and others will appreciate it. It has nothing to do with censorship because it applies only to them. It does not stop anyone from posting or viewing their pictures in other ways.

  24. 25 T
    November 25, 2009 at 18:36

    FYI: Google DOES censor the Net. I have a well-known friend in Washington, D.C. who has a political blog. She was censored by Google because of her content. Then she had to switch providers. Yet racist stuff like this is allowed. Tell me there’s not a double standard.

  25. 26 steve
    November 25, 2009 at 18:49

    Dear WHYS:

    I don’t see what the problem is with the post comparing Bush to chimpanzees. Why not let the readers at least see it? Bush was constantly compared to Chimps, yet nobody thought of the possibility of censoring the internet as a result of it.

  26. 27 brinda
    November 25, 2009 at 18:53

    Morals can not change ,should not change.Freedom of speech and all is ok till it does not cross a line.

    All said and done the picture is offensive and it should be taken down. Does not matter who the picture belongs to.It is a cheap shot an an individual and should be taken down.

    It is the same as the youngsters these days writing garbage about each other on the net .Trying to hurt each other.

  27. 28 Elias
    November 25, 2009 at 19:12

    Disgusting, diabolical unjustified and in poor taste. It reflects the thoughts of a guttersnipe.

  28. 29 Tom D Ford
    November 25, 2009 at 19:18

    What bothers me more is that Google follows me everywhere I go on the net. What business of theirs is it what I do? Every time I click on something Google shows up in the bottom progress bar on the screen. Why does Google gather information about me? What law gives them the right to invade my privacy like that?

    • 30 Tom K in Mpls
      November 25, 2009 at 19:37

      Use Firefox and the Ghostery add on. Google provides services that many sites, personal and professional, find useful. Ghostery will block these if you wish.

  29. 31 Josiah Soap
    November 25, 2009 at 19:47

    There’s a website called “Celebrity Apes” where celebrities of every colour and nationality are morphed to look like apes. No one seems to have complained about the people on there (the majority of whom are white). Sarah Palin is on there for example.

    Google should not become part of this political correctness control where racism/sexism/phobia/hate etc etc etc only applies when its done to certain people or groups.

  30. 32 jens
    November 25, 2009 at 19:50

    the problem here are the conentations. black people have been compared to monekys in the most disgusting and demeaning way. the images with bush and the monkeys were funny because would just pull all these faces that reminded us of monkeys. to super-impose a moneky on to michels body is not done because she makes funny faces, BUT because she is black. now if you cannot see the difference then you might just have a problem figuring out funny from racists…..

  31. 33 Tom D Ford
    November 25, 2009 at 19:56

    @ Tom K in Mpls
    November 25, 2009 at 19:37

    ” Use Firefox and the Ghostery add on.”

    Thanks, Tom, I’ll check into that. I already use Firefox and the wonderful add on “button” on that gives the option of blocking Flash, it has made the net a lot faster to load and keeps Flash from overloading my computer and crashing it.

  32. 34 Tom D Ford
    November 25, 2009 at 20:17

    In 1971 I was stationed at Fort Polk in Louisiana and I went to a nearby tavern for a beer. There was a huge mural on the wall of a black man dancing, with the caption “No monkeys allowed”. It was clearly racist. I never went back

    That comparison of black people to monkeys image has long been used by racists to denigrate black people and is not at all in the same league as portraying Bush as a cartoon chimp.

    I am waiting for the political cartoonists to create a defining image, a caricature of First Lady Obama that is funny and shows a real side of her. Every Pol gets their day, their image but it needs to be funny and not racist.

  33. 35 Bert
    November 25, 2009 at 23:36

    Google is only a search engine. It cannot censor diddly. The bext Google can do is remove one possible source of that image, then two, or then three, then 1000, then 2000, etc., and the image will simply keep popping up from other sources OR on other search engines.

    It’s not like Google stores the image for everyone on the Internet to see.

    Regrettable as it might be, public figures have to put up with these shenanigans. All public figures. There’s something about “heat” and “kitchen,” and also about “omlette” and “breaking eggs.”

  34. 36 John Doe (A dear)
    November 26, 2009 at 02:48

    Google should NOT censor anything. End of story.

  35. November 26, 2009 at 14:12

    Each content provider has a responsibility for the content of its sites, just as a newspaper editor has responsibility for the content that it publishes. Too often sites like Google and YouTube hide behind wooly or non-existent legislation and use it as an excuse to do nothing and allow everything. These companies make a fortune, and of course it is in their interests not to bother. Instead they whine about difficulty, and bring up the thorny issue of censorship, knowing that it will shut people up. Sorry, but I don’t buy their arguments. If it’s difficult to do – then tough! They take the money, they can share some of the problems with regulation. The Internet has grown much more quickly than our ability to control it, and this is a dangerous thing. At the moment, the ‘net is like the Wild West – Governments are too frightened by its complexity and allow users to behave in a manner that would be unacceptable in the ‘real’ world. Many users take advantage of this, and of the anonymity of the Internet, to distribute and promote the most vile material, knowing they will not be held to account. A child can log on and access porn and violent images in a way that they could never do in the past. Regulation and accountability of some form is long overdue. Those who insist that the Internet should somehow be allowed to break laws that apply to the ‘real’ world are fools to themselves. Left in such a chaotic state, the Internet will become a polluted cesspool of crime and rubbish, rather than the information superhighway that it should be.

  36. 38 lookoutsidethebox
    November 26, 2009 at 16:25

    Insults like this proves to the world that there are still people in and outside of America who enjoy the suffering and racism of minorities, in and outside of the America. One should remember the truth and what the world knows; the beginnings/foundation of America was built on an evil curse called Slavery. The founders of America had Slaves. George Washington had Slaves, Thomas Jefferson had children from Slaves, Benjamin Franklin also had children from Slaves, etc. There are still people with hideous and hypocritical moral souls who still enjoy these kinds of indignities, just look at the internet conversations. So what does that say about moral standing of America in the world? How can America give moral advice to any other nation? Get the picture? They can say, you (America), a nation that hasn’t come to grips with its own moral conscience and about its Slavery past, how can you even attemped to try to advise the rest of the world about Human Rights when you continue, even in the 21st century, to enjoy indignifying the descendence of slaves who have fought for Human Rights since their enslavement? Hopefully, this is not the true soul of America, but we will see, won’t we. America will be judged before the eyes of all mankind, morally and spiritually, there is no doubt about that. 

  37. 39 Ronald Almeida
    November 26, 2009 at 20:10

    Nobody should censor anything. Those who don’t like something should close their eyes and ears.

  38. November 28, 2009 at 12:54

    Has Michelle Obama objected to this? If so it has not been made public. If I was depicted negatively I would have something to say about it as would many others. Until she speaks out, G$$gle will not feel disposed to do anything.

  39. 41 Ronald Almeida
    November 29, 2009 at 15:17

    I am probably dumber than I know, but I fail to understand why humans accept Social, Political and Government systems that are able to curtail their freedom of individuality and its expression. Even if it is the opinion of the majority?

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