Google's Algorithm Might Show Pictures of Trump When You Search “Idiot”
President Donald Trump's controversial White House has caused a steady slew of protests over the past year and a half, with new ones popping up all the time. The latest form of sassy demonstration comes from an unlikely source, however. Protesters have made it so Google delivers pictures of Trump when you search "idiot," and I find that pretty creative.
Now, I'm not going to pretend I'm web savvy enough to understand anything about how the Internet works, let alone how the magic Google machine does anything it does. But some pranksters have it figured out and have been gaming Google's algorithm to show pictures of Trump when someone image searches"idiot," according to Business Insider.
It all stems from a campaign aimed at rocketing the 2004 Green Day song "American Idiot" to the top of the British music charts for Trump's visit to the United Kingdom on July 12, according to The Guardian. As the effort grew, many news outlets covered the campaign, inadvertently associating Trump with the word "idiot," and laying the groundwork for Google to make the association. From there, protesters decided to double down on the idea, and make sure that all the top results for "idiot" on Google were pictures of Trump.
Here's what it looks like if you image search "idiot" right now:
As you can see, the nine out of the top 12 results are pictures of Trump. According to The Hill, those results were achieved by upvoting posts on Reddit that had both a photo of the president and the word "idiot." On Thursday, July 19, the top posts on Reddit, with tens of thousands of upvotes were the ones that associated Trump with "idiot."
That's pretty wild, no? I would have never thought something like that would be possible, but these people actually figured out how to trick Google as a form of protest, which is something, no? Okay, so, to be fair, it's not really "tricking" Google per se, it's more of a manipulation. The way Google runs its search makes it pretty easy — as long as you can get thousands of like-minded people on board.
Google Images results pop up in order of relevance, so because of Reddit's popularity, popular articles on the site often end up at the top of Google search results, according to The Hill. In the past, Reddit users have been able to game the algorithm in other ways too. For instance: associating CNN's logo with the term "fake news" last year.
What's called "google bombing," according to Business Insider, is kind of creative, especially if you're trying to protest an administration, but it also has a darker side. Because Google is kind of hands off, sometimes the algorithm can be manipulated or bring up results that could be offensive. As The Guardian reports, in 2004 when people searched "Jew" it would bring up a hooked-nose caricature. Google did not remove the image, but instead purchased ads to appear next to the search results that explained why it was happening, blaming it on the algorithm. They wrote,
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.
As much as you might find it funny to Google "idiot" over and over to see the Trump results flood in, the ability to wield that power over a tool that people use everyday is a little scary. That doesn't mean, though, that I'm not going to try and get Google to show pictures of me every time someone Googles "has potential." I mean, you gotta do what you gotta do.