At least according to Google:
For most of the past week, when someone typed "Michelle Obama" in the popular search engine Google, one of the first images that came up was a picture of the American first lady altered to resemble a monkey.
On Wednesday morning, the racially offensive image appeared to have been removed from any Google Image searches for "Michelle Obama."
I'm about to reprint the image, below the jump. Be warned, gentle readers, that it is very offensive.
Google of course is a private company, free to do as it wishes with its search results. At least in America. In China the company actively cooperates with the government to censor images which might constitute lese-majeste. In America the company firewalls sites which may offend some but are by no means obscene. And in terms of internet search, Google is as effectively a monopoly as its competitor Microsoft ever was in terms of the operating system.
But internet search, the means by which we obtain information, is far more important than browsers or operating systems. Those are, forgive the term, mere hardware. Paper, in dinosaur terms. Search engines are content, the ink applied to the paper. If Google blocks a site, it effectively doesn't exist.
I know very well what point the idiot who created this image of the First Lady was trying to make, and I don't like it. I condemn him as a racist fool. And I concede that this image, for historical and cultural reasons, is far more hurtful than this image:
which remains very high on Google's image rankings for "George W Bush," an image we all know is not as offensive as the image of Michelle Obama which Google has censored. Because Michelle Obama is not an ape, and George W. Bush is an ape. Or because African-Americans have endured hundreds of years of horrible comparisons to apes, by racists who believe them to be less than human. Or because jokes about Republicans are funny, but jokes about Democrats are not. Or because no one has complained (except for me – I'm shooting it to someone at Google as soon as I complete this post) about the Bush image, while many have complained about the Obama image.
In any case, I don't want Google to decide, before I have the choice to make my own decision, which image is more offensive. Google's not the only internet utility that presumes to know what ideas are safe for its readers to see and what aren't, but it's by far the most important.
I'm quite proficient, and comfortable, with Google. Google's product is excellent. But Google's motto "Don't Be Evil" isn't as specific a rule as I'd like in a world where "Evil" can be construed to mean publishing an image of a man standing in front of a line of tanks in Tiananmen Square, a man I consider a hero, but Chinese communists consider Evil Incarnate.
I have a better policy for Google. It would read:
Google shall make no policy respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to network, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.
I'm strongly considering shifting my eyes, and whatever revenue those searching eyes bring, to Microsoft of all places. I hear Bing is pretty good, and at least with Microsoft I know I'll be dealing with a company that doesn't pretend it isn't evil.