Protesters are gaming Google's algorithm so photos of Trump come up when you search 'idiot'

Zach Gibson/Getty; Shayanne Gal/Business Insider
  • Photos of President Donald Trump began popping up in Google image searches for “idiot” after British protesters tried to make Green Day’s “American Idiot” trend when Trump visited the UK.
  • Trump’s critics are now trying to continue this trend by publishing articles and images of him alongside the word “idiot.”
  • This tactic is also called “Google bombing.”
  • Google closely guards its search algorithm, but the protesters’ efforts seem to be working.

Activists are gaming Google’s algorithm so that when people search for “idiot,” almost all of the top results are pictures of President Donald Trump.

Protesters are publishing articles that associate the word “idiot” with Trump while sharing and upvoting other articles that do the same.

The net effect of this is that the association inside Google’s algorithm becomes stronger, producing photos of Trump when people input the term “idiot.”

Here’s what the Google image search page for “idiot” looked like Thursday morning from Business Insider’s office in London:

Trump idiot google bomb 19 july 2018Google

Eight of the first 10 images show Trump’s face directly. Of the remaining two, one is Ash Sarkar, a protester who called the British journalist Piers Morgan an “idiot” while talking about Trump.

The only top result unrelated to Trump is the ninth one, a man posing for a stock image meant to portray an idiot that was posted to DeviantArt.

The phenomenon started organically with coverage of a campaign in the UK to get the Green Day song “American Idiot” to the top spot on UK charts in time for Trump’s four-day visit to Britain last week.

Many English articles about the campaign published last week had included the word “American Idiot” in their headlines and featured images of Trump, strengthening the link between the image and the keyword.

Since then, activists have been trying to prolong the trend by manipulating Google’s algorithm so photos of Trump remain on the image search results for “idiot,” The Guardian reported.

Tactics may include publishing articles containing the word “idiot” in the headline alongside a photo of Trump, writing posts that have the words “Trump” and “idiot” close to each other, or repeatedly linking certain key words to a web page or image.

This is also called “Google bombing.”

People have also been upvoting posts containing a photo of him and the word “idiot” on Reddit, The Guardian said.

News coverage of the trend, including articles like this one, is likely to compound the effect.

It’s not clear exactly how long Google’s closely guarded, and constantly changing, search algorithms work or how long Trump’s photos will be associated with that word.

In 2009, Google gave a glimpse into the way its algorithm worked after users found that image searches for “Michelle Obama” rendered a racist photo of a monkey wearing earrings.

The tech giant said in a statement at the time:

“Sometimes Google search results from the internet can include disturbing content, even from innocuous queries. We assure you that the views expressed by such sites are not in any way endorsed by Google.

“Search engines are a reflection of the content and information that is available on the internet. 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.

“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.”

Business Insider has asked Google for comment on this phenomenon specifically.

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