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Google An Idiot: Trump's Image Comes Up

Updated on December 12, 2018
Christina St-Jean profile image

I am a mom of two awesome children who teach me more than I ever thought possible. I love writing, exercise, movies, and LGBT advocacy.

Google Gets Put On The Spot About The Search For An Idiot


The Art Of The Google Algorithm

I don't know President Trump - many of us don't - but it's probably safe to say that a colorful word or two has come up for some of us when discussing the current president of the United States.

Has there been enough in print that would lead his picture to come up when you search the word 'idiot?'

Why would anyone look up the word 'idiot' in the first place?

These two questions need to be asked when confronted with the news that when you search the word idiot - at least on Google Images - the first couple dozen or so images that come up are those of President Trump himself. If you were to do a general search of the word, what comes up is the news that Google execs were being questioned about why a search for 'idiot' brings up images of the president.

Basically, it comes down to algorithms in motion. There are some 200 factors that figure into the algorithm or algorithms that make up Google's search engine, and these include things like relevance, popularity, and how others are using the search term. Google CEO Sundar Pichai was on the hotseat during a House Judiciary Committee hearing because Republicans have alleged that Google is manipulating search results for political reasons.

“So it’s not some little man sitting behind the curtain figuring out what we’re going to show the user. It’s basically a compilation of what users are generating, and trying to sort through that information?” Rep. Zoe Lofgren (D-California) asked, no doubt with her tongue planted firmly in her cheek, according to Washington Post.

It is with some relief that we now know that we do not have a situation at Google that may look something like a scene out of Wizard of Oz. Republicans, on the other hand, were not willing to accept Pichai's explanation that it was more or less impossible for search results to be manipulated by humans.

Rep. Lamar Smith (R-Texas) seemed to want very badly to believe that someone at Google was doing something behind the scenes to bash the Republican president, saying, "Let me just say, I disagree. I think humans can manipulate the process. It is a human process at its base.”

According to Smith's government website, where his biography is posted, he graduated from Yale University and Southern Methodist University School of Law, not any sort of computer school. Typically, when I'm asked about something outside my field of expertise, I might respond with my opinion, but I generally add that "my degree says English and French education, not (insert field of study here)." So, Mr. Smith, who from what we can tell does not have a specialized computer background, is trying to tell the CEO of Google that something that is not possible to manipulate due to the number of variables at play can be manipulated?

Isn't it great when someone who knows little to nothing about your job tries to tell you how it works?

To Pichai's credit, he did his best to patiently explain to those too stubborn to admit that human sentiment had nothing to do with how an algorithm worked.

“What is important here is we use the robust methodology to reflect what is being said about any given topic at any particular time," he explained. "And we try to do it objectively, using a set of rubrics. It is in our interest to make sure we reflect what’s happening out there in the best objective manner possible. I can commit to you, and I can assure you, we do it without regards to political ideology. Our algorithms have no notion of political sentiment in it.”

Rep. Steve Chabot (R - Ohio) was less than thrilled that when he googled the GOP tax cuts or the health care bill that the first several hits were negative in nature. This led to further questioning about Google's apparent "conservative bias."

“How do you explain this apparent bias on Google’s part against conservative points of view, against conservative policies?" Chabot asked, apparently unwilling to accept that Google was basing its search patterns on a series of algorithms rather than what a human being was saying or doing behind the scenes. "Is it just the algorithm, or is there more happening there?”

In what was probably the best moment of the hearing - and like many, I would have enjoyed being in the room to see the looks on the Republicans' faces when this was said - Rep. Ted Lieu (D - California) said if the Republicans wanted to see positive search results coming from Google, they should probably start by trying to use their powers for good, not evil.

“If you want positive search results, do positive things. If you don’t want negative search results, don’t do negative things,” he said. “And to some of my colleagues across the aisle, if you’re getting bad press articles and bad search results, don’t blame Google or Facebook or Twitter, consider blaming yourself.”


A politician encouraging positive works and taking responsibility for your own actions? Did we step into an episode of The Twilight Zone?

It sounds very similar to life lessons we try to teach our kids. Rather than blaming someone else when you screw up, take a long, hard look at yourself.

In the case of the search for an idiot, perhaps Trump and company need to take a look at themselves and see what they can start doing to effect positive change rather than complaining that an objective algorithm is spinning bad press.


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