Google Apologizes for Michelle Obama Monkey Picture

Google looked like a monkey after its algorithms had an unfortunate result for searches for photos of the First Lady.

Michelle Obama Monkey Photo Google Image Search

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.”

Google officials could not immediately be reached for comment.

Google faced a firestorm of criticism over the episode. First, it banned the Web site that posted the photo, saying it could spread a malware virus. Then, when the image appeared on another Web site, Google let the photo stand. When a Google image search brought up the photo, an apologetic Google ad occasionally appeared above it.

The ad redirected users to a statement from Google which read, “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.”

Guardian’s Mark Sweeney has a more detailed explanation:

The image, which has been appearing at the top of search results when the words “Michelle Obama” are put into Google Images, was posted on a blog called Hot Girls, which is hosted by the Google-owned blog service, Blogger.

Hot Girls’ owner has today removed the image, which appears to have originally been put up with a blog post on 21 October, and displayed an apology in Chinese with a very loose English translation.

Google had refused to remove the offensive image from its picture search listings, despite complaints that it is racist, instead opting to run an ad next to it explaining its policy on how search engine results work.

A spokesman for Google said that the Hot Girls blog and image may still temporarily appear when some users make Google Images searches but that it was coming out of the search engine’s indexing system.

The company has been unusually responsive in this case, and understandably so.  But the fact of the matter is that its Image Search, while simply amazing in many respects (I use it all the time for photos to illustrate posts at OTB), is subject to the same manipulation as its text search results.   Indeed, it’s hard to search for anything at all — but especially people’s names — and not find plenty of dubious results.

Photo credit:  Island Crisis

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James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm veteran. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.


  1. Wayne says:

    Google Bush images and you get several unflattering images including one comparing him to a monkey on the second page. Barbara Bush lookup have some offensive ones as well.

    Bunch of hypocrites.

  2. Franklin says:

    I fully understand this issue is a bit more complex, but the bottom line is that Google is a search engine, not a social engineering engine. Maybe I was *looking* for a horribly racist Photoshop of Michelle Obama for my KKK meeting.

  3. the Q says:

    As much as I hate the racist connotation, I don’t think google should censor its search content, as offensive as it may seem.

    I am sure some on the right were apoplectic over the bush/chimp websites, and those were not taken down or eliminated from searches.

    Once we go down the road of removing that which might be deemed offensive to some, there is no telling where it may end.

    Of course there should be some monitoring (child porn etc.) if something falls into the obscene/illegal category, but the image in question just seems more parody than anything else.

    Look at some of the political cartoons caricaturing Lincoln as a baboon/ape in the 1860 election for far worse.

  4. the Q says:

    Did I just agree with Wayne?

  5. Benson says:

    So now we’re censoring material that offends the First Lady. Even while Google searches for just about every other political figure brings up offending images.

  6. Furhead says:

    I’m not sure who Wayne thinks is being a hypocrite. Please explain in detail.

  7. Zelsdorf Ragshaft III says:

    I guess black skin is thin skin. It was OK to make Bush look like a chimp. Call him chimpy and that is OK. If it is done to Michelle Obama it is racist? Which weighs more 16 ounces or a pound?

  8. Southern boy says:

    What did you expect she’s a one ugly Mother F**ker remember that line from a movie. There’s not much you can do about that face she needs to to on the show of What not to Wear. It to bad we got the First Black Lady in history who looks like my right nut. Plant of the Apes 6 or 7 here we come!!

  9. Wayne says:

    Don’t you hate when that happens? I still have nightmares about the few times that I stuck up for Hillary.

    Simply those who condemn “Michelle Obama” search result but are OK with any of the Bush’s search results in addition to Google who pulled down one but not the other.

  10. gustopher says:

    Anyone who cannot see a difference between a caricature making a white person look like a monkey, and a caricature making a black person look like a monkey is either lying or willfully stupid.

    So, ignoring the arguments of Willfully Stupid III, I don’t think that Google should be censoring, but I do think that Google should be trying to surface the most relevant images — I would hope this picture comes up on search terms like “Michelle Obama monkey”, “racist caricature of Michelle Obama”…

  11. JVB says:

    You know, this is right up there with PETA nuts who throw Ketsup on people who wear fur. It’s extreme. However…it’s done all the time for any one of notoriety or fame. Perez Hilton is free to insult and verbally assault in ways far worse than defacing someone’s image..he’s empowered to do just that by his peers and the MSM. Sarah Palin has been crucified and no one has apologized for a fraction of what they’ve done to her. This is NOT unprecedented or illegal. No one was physically disfigured. People who really and truly believe she is married to God need to get a grip.

  12. G.A.Phillips says:

    lol, it’s not racist if your an evolutionist, right?
    Just an image of what Her great,etc,etc,etc, Grandma would have looked like, or if she lived in a different time, right?

  13. Pug says:

    Well, Southern Boy certainly lives up to the stereotype of Southerners as racist jerks. Good job.

  14. Wayne says:

    Re “Anyone who cannot see a difference between a caricature making a white person look like a monkey, and a caricature making a black person look like a monkey is either lying or willfully stupid.”

    IMO the ones seeing a difference are the racist. If you want races to be treated equal then you should treat races equal. That includes the bad as well as the good.