There are a few Google search inputs guaranteed to deliver pictures of the current Commander-in-Chief: “Donald Trump,” “US President,” and “idiot.” Yes, as Great Britain continues to mock the US leader, it seems the world’s most popular search engine has turned against him, too.
As mildly humorous as it is to search “idiot” on Google Images and see varying photos of Trump, it’s also a noteworthy example of how subjective and easily impressionable Google really is. Yahoo’s search results for “idiot” don’t show Trump; interestingly, they actually show a picture of Obama among its top results. Bing does the same. And that begs the question of why Google, one of the world’s most popular engines, allows its results to be skewed by political fervor.
Why Does Google Think Donald Trump Is an “Idiot”?
In the past, online attempts to influence Google search results were overwhelmingly conducted by alt-right influences. In 2004, searching “Jew” turned up racist caricatures. In 2009, searching “Michelle Obama” surfaced a photoshopped image with ape-like features. Even during the 2016 election cycle, “rapist” search results included a notable number of Bill Clinton pictures. As stereotypical as it sounds, evidence points toward internet “pranksters” who skew search engines and spread real “fake news” as being overwhelmingly conservative, white men.
Associating Trump with stupidity is far less egregious than perpetuating fake conspiracies and attacking the Obama family with racist propaganda. But either way, Google refuses to play God with its own algorithm. (Not unlike Mark Zuckerberg, who insists that Holocaust deniers are blissfully ignorant.)
“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,” Google told The Guardian. “Sometimes subtleties of language cause anomalies to appear that cannot be predicted.”
Google did not immediately return Inverse’s request for comment.
In the case of the aforementioned “Jew” and “Michelle Obama” incidents, Google chose to place ads next to the results explaining why antisemitic and racist images and websites were appearing so high up in the results. The company has not yet intervened in the case of the “idiot” Trump results.
How Are Activists Able to Make Trump Appear as the Top Result?
Trump initially popped up under “idiot” after British protestors used the song “American Idiot” by Green Day (you know the one) to great fanfare, The Guardian reported Tuesday. Later, Reddit users allegedly upvoted a picture of Donald Trump with the caption “idiot” enough times that the correlation stuck. It’s true that those posts exist, and Reddit has influenced similar algorithm trickery before with Federal Communications Chairman Ajit Pai, the driving force behind net neutrality rollback.
But ironically, the internet users behind the initial search results didn’t have to do much to keep Trump trending under “idiot.” The media did the rest for them. Currently, all the top search results for “idiot” are pictures used by outlets in their articles explaining the phenomenon. It’s proof that to get something done en masse online, you just need to catch a reporter’s attention. Once one publication writes an article, the rest are clamoring for clicks. And, ta-dah! Trump and “idiot” coexist peacefully on Google Images search results.
Never one to ignore his public image, Trump has surprisingly not tweeted about his Google rankings — yet. It’s just the kind of thing he’d blame the so-called fake news media for. And this time, he’d be right.