Offensive Michelle Obama Image Returns, Google Buys Ad To Explain

google-obama-adGoogle is buying ads to explain why an offensive image of the First Lady is back in its index and ranking so highly on searches for Michelle Obama in Google Image Search.

As we reported last week, Google had originally removed the Michelle Obama image on the grounds that the site hosting the image violated Google’s guidelines by serving malware to visitors. But the same image remained available on other sites that hadn’t run afoul of the rules.

Google’s ad, shown above, leads searchers to, which apologizes to users who’ve “had an upsetting experience using Google,” and explains the company’s policy on offensive content:

“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.

Search engines are a reflection of the content and information that is available on the Internet. A site’s ranking in Google’s search results relies heavily on computer algorithms using thousands of factors to calculate a page’s relevance to a given query.

The beliefs and preferences of those who work at Google, as well as the opinions of the general public, do not determine or impact our search results.”

Note that if you don’t see the image, you may have your “SafeSearch” settings switched to off. Oddly, it only appears when you use the Moderate or Strict SafeSearch options. Look for your settings underneath the search box.

As Barry Schwartz points out on Search Engine Roundtable, Google runs a similar ad in its main search index on the query jew.


And, in 2006, Google also bought ads to explain why George Bush’s page on ranked first for “miserable failure”:

Miserable Failure Before

See Danny Sullivan’s Google Kills Bush’s Miserable Failure Search & Other Google Bombs for more on how Google eventually changed its algorithm to remove from the top spot on that search term.

For now, at least, there’s no such algorithmic change in place for the Michelle Obama image search result.

About The Author: is Editor-In-Chief of Search Engine Land. His news career includes time spent in TV, radio, and print journalism. His web career continues to include a small number of SEO and social media consulting clients, as well as regular speaking engagements at marketing events around the U.S. He recently launched a site dedicated to Google Glass called Glass Almanac and also blogs at Small Business Search Marketing. Matt can be found on Twitter at @MattMcGee and/or on Google Plus. You can read Matt's disclosures on his personal blog.

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  • saseo

    In my view offensive results are to be expected. Info like the Michelle Obama image tend to spread like wildfire, especially where political figures, celebrities, race and religion are involved.

    The same type of thing can always be seen here in SA to.

  • scottybowl

    What was the offensive result?

  • Martel

    Google is committing a very egregious error of logic. There is a simple, if not altogether satisfying, solution to this problem which does not require censorship. The picture in question is not a picture of Michelle Obama. It is a very heavily photoshopped image of SOMEONE, but it’s not an image/picture of Michelle Obama even if the original WAS, at one time, a picture of her.

    Therefore, it should not be returned by a Google search as a picture of Michelle Obama, and the fact that it is constitutes the perpetration of a lie by Google. Perhaps lies aren’t evil?

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