Algorithm-savvy protesters are using one of the web's most popular search engines to send the president a message. Type the word "idiot" into Google Images and you'll see Donald Trump. But Trump's mug isn't just the first image to pop up, or even the second, third, or fourth image. Trump's face is, in fact, on nearly every image culled by the search engine thanks to a concentrated campaign to tie "idiot" to the president.
Although the appearance of Trump's photo in the Google Images' search results for the word "idiot" happened naturally, his takeover of the category isn't exactly happenstance. Internet users began to manipulate Google's algorithm in an effort to flood the search results for the word "idiot" with pictures of Trump after they noticed a photo of the president had come up under the term after British protesters used Green Day's hit single American Idiot as an unofficial anthem for their protests against the president's recent U.K. visit.
According to the Guardian, much of the manipulation of Google's image results was done via Reddit users upvoting posts that captioned a photo of President Trump with the word "idiot." Media coverage of the manipulation has added additional images of the president to the search results.
According to Vice News, artificially influencing Google search results through the creation of false relationships is known as "Google bombing" or "Googlewashing." Efforts to manipulate Google's search algorithm aren't new. In fact, Trump isn't the first person to find themselves the target of a "Google bomb."
In 2009, searches done in Google Images for "Michelle Obama" turned up a picture of the then-first lady that had been edited to give her "ape-like" features, according to the Guardian. For a few weeks in 2006, former Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi's website popped up as the top result when you searched "buffone," which means clown in Italian, in Google. And in 2005, after offending a number of folks with calls for Al Qaeda to blow up San Francisco, Bill O'Reilly became the top result whenever anyone searched the phrase "terrorist sympathizer."
In fact, Trump isn't even the first president to find himself "Google bombed." A White House biography for former President George W. Bush was, for more than three years, the top result for searches of the term "miserable failure." The "Google bomb" targeting Bush wasn't diffused until Google decided to make a few changes to its algorithm in early 2007.
But if Trump is hoping that Google will intervene and diffuse the "Google bomb" recently aimed at him, he's likely to be disappointed. According to the Guardian, the tech company has previously always refused to manually mess with its algorithm or alter search results. When the company came under criticism for the Bush "Google bomb" in September of 2005, it said that while Google didn't condone the practice of "google bombing," it was "reluctant" to manually alter Google search results in order to prevent such pranks.
"Pranks like this may be distracting to some, but they don't affect the overall quality of our search service, whose objectivity, as always, remains the core of our mission," a statement from the company read.