Images of Jews

25 Nov 2009 by CST

Google have issued adverts explaining why some internet searches, including searching for the word "Jew", throw up offensive results:

Google is running advertisements to explain the appearance of racist and anti-Semitic material in search results, including a picture which depicts US First Lady Michelle Obama as a monkey.

"Sometimes Google search results from the Internet can include disturbing content, even from innocuous queries," the Mountain View, California-based search giant said in an ad signed "The Google Team."

"We assure you that the views expressed by such sites are not in any way endorsed by Google," Google said.

The Google ad appears on a page of image search results for Michelle Obama which includes the offensive depiction of the wife of President Barack Obama.

[...]

A similar Google explanation appears on the page featuring search results for the word "Jew."

This is not the first time that Google have taken such a step. The adverts referred to above appear to be based on a statement they first published in 2004 to explain why the antisemitic "Jewwatch" website ranked so highly in their searches at that time:

If you recently used Google to search for the word "Jew," you may have seen results that were very disturbing. We assure you that the views expressed by the sites in your results are not in any way endorsed by Google. We'd like to explain why you're seeing these results when you conduct this search.

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. Sometimes subtleties of language cause anomalies to appear that cannot be predicted. A search for "Jew" brings up one such unexpected result.

If you use Google to search for "Judaism," "Jewish" or "Jewish people," the results are informative and relevant. So why is a search for "Jew" different? One reason is that the word "Jew" is often used in an anti-Semitic context. Jewish organizations are more likely to use the word "Jewish" when talking about members of their faith.

[...]

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. Individual citizens and public interest groups do periodically urge us to remove particular links or otherwise adjust search results. Although Google reserves the right to address such requests individually, Google views the comprehensiveness of our search results as an extremely important priority. Accordingly, we do not remove a page from our search results simply because its content is unpopular or because we receive complaints concerning it. We will, however, remove pages from our results if we believe the page (or its site) violates our Webmaster Guidelines, if we believe we are required to do so by law, or at the request of the webmaster who is responsible for the page.

We apologize for the upsetting nature of the experience you had using Google and appreciate your taking the time to inform us about it.

 The results on the first page of a google image search for the word "Jew" are pretty representative of the internet in general. There is the descriptive:

jew

The educational:

Jew-insultingSIGN

The offensive:

Jewhands

And the downright bizarre:

jew-jitsu

There is a valid argument that Google should remove offensive content entirely from their search results. This is reflected in a long-standing internet petition which claims  - wrongly - that Google will remove Jewwatch from their searches if the petition reaches 500,000 names (we have not linked to the petition because its claims are not correct). There is also some evidence (although it is not clear whether Google has confirmed this) that Google has removed Jewwatch from their searches in Germany and France, where the site would be illegal. However, Google's argument that they merely reflect what the internet contains has some merit, albeit filtered through the specific settings of their search algorithms. In addition, beyond those sites that are illegal in particular countries, it leaves the question of how would decide which sites to eliminate from their searches, and by what criteria. Whatever your position on this, Google should at least be commended for taking some responsibility for alerting users to the offensive nature of the sites, and distancing themselves from their content.


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“"The Guardian of Israel doesn't slumber or sleep". This feeling of safety and security that we search for and need is gratefully appreciated when it's given to us by the CST. It really is a pleasure to work with the CST and to be looked after and cared for by them. Where ever I go throughout Britain, in all our Synagogues from north to south the impact and help given by the CST is warmly valued.”

Rabbi Laura Janner-Klausner
Senior Rabbi, Reform Judaism