It would be safe to say that, since being inaugurated into office, Donald Trump has been one of the most divisive presidents in recent history. On the one hand, you’ve got his rabid fans, who point to his numbers and the fact that he does what he says. Then, on the other, you’ve got the thousands of people who protested him coming into the UK and those who brand him as sexist and transphobic as well as racist (not to mention an orange turd).
Whatever side you fall on, there’s no denying that Trump has split opinion. There’s also no doubting that he has a high opinion of himself.
Trump prides himself on his business acumen and intelligence and would more than likely say that he’s one of the smartest people in the world. However, sadly for him, Google disagrees.
Right now, if you Google image the word “idiot”, you’ll find images of President Donald Trump. This is down to online activists, who are protesting Trump’s policies regarding immigration and members of the LGBTQ community, among others things. According to the Guardian, these activists are pushing Trump’s portraits to the top of the search results by manipulating the search engine’s ranking algorithm.
The association between Trump and the word “idiot” may be an easy one to draw, but it was partly sparked by London protesters’ choosing the Green Day song “American Idiot” as their anthem during the president’s visit. However, Reddit users – aka the gatekeepers to the internet – have also jumped on the bandwagon and decided to upvote posts of Trump with the word “idiot,” which then encouraged Google’s search algorithms to associate the two terms.
Google, for their part, chooses not to interfere with its search results. However, the problem with this is that controversial images can then be associated with the search terms. In 2004, for example, anti-Semitic imagery appeared for the search term “jew” and Google did not remove them but chose to display ads next to the offending images, explaining how its search results were calculated.
According to the search engine, “thousands of factors” can determine a site’s ranking, meaning that sometimes “subtleties of language cause anomalies to appear that cannot be predicted.”
Safiya Umoja Noble is someone who knows a lot about this controversial stance when it comes to Google Image searches. The author published a book called Algorithms of Oppression that details how she uncovered tons of pornographic and racist imagery depicting black people when trying to search the term “black girls.” In the book, Noble writes: “There is a missing social and human context in some types of algorithmically driven decision making, and this matters for everyone engaging with these types of technologies in everyday life.”
In the case of Trump, it’s not the first time that an American political figure has been involved in this sort of thing. Back in 2009, search results for former first lady Michelle Obama brought up an image altered to have ape-like features. While there were calls for the image to be removed from the search engine, Google’s response was to place advertising alongside the results that sought to clarify that the company did not support the images, but that it also would not interfere with the results directly.
It seems pretty crazy that Google still hasn’t addressed the issue of offensive search results, and now that activists have found out that they can still cheat the system, it’s more than likely that we may be seeing more controversial imagery pop up on innocent terminology.