Some Might Call it Censorship
November 6, 2004 9:20 PM   Subscribe

Google Blocks Abu Ghraib Images
I went to Google Images to search for it. "Abu Ghraib" brought up only photos of the outside of the prison. Not a single photo from the scandal. Next I searched for "Lynndie England", not a single picture. Next I decided to look for "Charles Graner" her boyfriend who was also prominently features in the pictures, nothing.
See for yourself.
posted by destro (71 comments total)
Weird, I know Lynndie England worked the other day when someone posted the halloween costumes link.
posted by drezdn at 9:23 PM on November 6, 2004

Wow! Take a look at the difference in results with the same searches on Altavista
posted by arse_hat at 9:36 PM on November 6, 2004

There is one image returned from Google on a search for lynndie, and it seems oddly appropriate:

posted by mr_crash_davis at 9:38 PM on November 6, 2004

So much for "Don't be evil."
posted by brantstrand at 9:39 PM on November 6, 2004

Maybe a server fell over. Give 'em a week before you start calling it a conspiracy.
posted by Galvatron at 9:44 PM on November 6, 2004

Oh, sorry. I see the forum post was on 10/6, not 11/6. CONSPIRACY!
posted by Galvatron at 9:46 PM on November 6, 2004

What's the settings for images on Google?

try searching for porn, if you can't find any, adjust your settings
posted by RobbieFal at 9:53 PM on November 6, 2004

I have all the "safe" crap turned off on Google, and "Lynndie England" comes up as nothing on an image search. The Google suggestion "did you mean 'Lyndie England?'" also turns up nothing.

This is like Larry Niven's example of a useless child's prayer:

"Please, God, made it didn't happen".

posted by interrobang at 10:15 PM on November 6, 2004

I suggest we all bomb google.
posted by interrobang at 10:20 PM on November 6, 2004

torture of iraqis, Lynndie England, Abu Ghraib. Try them all at Google then at Altavista. It does seem odd that GIS has lost it's edge.
posted by arse_hat at 10:20 PM on November 6, 2004

Yahoo's image search comes up trumps. If I'm not mistaken, they license google technology. I wonder what the hell is going on? If that forum is really a month old, can google have been missing these images all this time and there's been no word of it? People posting there were talking about contacting the news. I've heard nothing, but election news drowns out a lot. For whatever it's worth, a google news search for google abu ghraib comes up with nothing relevant.
posted by George_Spiggott at 10:21 PM on November 6, 2004

George_Spiggott I forgot about the Yahoo thing. That is really disturbing.
posted by arse_hat at 10:23 PM on November 6, 2004

google censors the web for the chinese gov't too. And don't give me the 'adjust your settings' line. Even with safesearch off it's the same. Fuck 'em. gmail too. And oh yeah, google news has nothing about a certain stolen election either.

I'm going off next time I hear that 'don't be evil' crap. I'll get up on a soapbox, goddammit. I'm tired of the bullshit catch phrases. No free pass for these fucks.
posted by snakey at 10:29 PM on November 6, 2004

This is a little disturbing.
posted by stavrosthewonderchicken at 10:32 PM on November 6, 2004

FYI, Yahoo no longer licenses Google search results.
posted by Galvatron at 10:39 PM on November 6, 2004

This is beyond disturbing; it's outrageous.
posted by interrobang at 10:44 PM on November 6, 2004

Some more info here. Can this be true? Google only updates images every 6 months?

And in their own words:

An image I know is online wasn't found when I did my search. Why?

You can search more than 880 million images on the Web with Google's Image Search. However, there are many more images on the Internet that Google has not yet added to its index. Google is working to crawl more images to increase the quality and quantity of images returned when you search, so it's likely we will add the image you're looking for in the near future.

posted by loquax at 10:53 PM on November 6, 2004

An image I know is online wasn't found when I did my search. Why?


Sometimes I see what appear to be news photos at the top of my results. Why is that?

This scenario seems to be pretty darned open-ended right now--somewhere between "it's been a while since the googledance for the image search" and "conspiracy to undermine democracy!!!!!!!!!!" I guess, like, asking a google employee could probably get to the bottom of this. I'm leaning toward giving google the benefit of the doubt on this one, especially in light of how tactfully they've dealt with DMCA requests.
posted by LimePi at 10:53 PM on November 6, 2004

"iraqi torture"

iraq dogleash

(dog#leash doesn't work, either.)

iraq prison

Something is obviouisly going on here.
posted by interrobang at 10:55 PM on November 6, 2004

posted by interrobang at 10:58 PM on November 6, 2004

They also seem to have no photos of the 2004 election or the presidential debates, or the Red Sox winning the World Series, so I say much ado about nothing. Just sell your google stock because apparantly Yahoo can actually "search" the "internet" for images.
posted by loquax at 10:58 PM on November 6, 2004

Also, if you seach for "Month Year", January, February and March have over 1 million hits, then April dips to below 300,000. July returns only 120,000 hits. Poor effort Google. Also, this is allowed, so sleep tight everyone.
posted by loquax at 11:06 PM on November 6, 2004

yeah, google images only updates like twice a year. I like a good conspiracy as much as the next guy, but not this time I'm afraid.
posted by krunk at 11:08 PM on November 6, 2004

One would think that they'd at least index primary news sites on a more regular basis.
posted by RavinDave at 11:14 PM on November 6, 2004

I'm now disappointed for a different, albeit less important, reason.
posted by destro at 11:20 PM on November 6, 2004

In terms of conspiracy, I find it hard to believe that allowing regular web searches to work, but suppressing the image search feature would be effective. I never use image search, and would be surprised if anyone would to find out more about the situation. Of course, the normal search brings up countless sites with images. Google censorship in China and elsewhere (as far as I know) only consists of not displaying results that come from IP addresses that are banned from the government on the basis that "the link would be dead anyways". Still not ideal, but not a filtering of search terms themselves.
posted by loquax at 11:23 PM on November 6, 2004

Where is this every six to twelve months idea coming from? I have not found anything that says that other than this unsupported quote.
posted by arse_hat at 11:27 PM on November 6, 2004

Search for more recent events yourself, arse_hat, little if anything comes up, and the number of hits drops drastically from March to April. Not conclusive, granted, but it's hard to believe Google would ever confirm that they're *so* out of date.
posted by loquax at 11:39 PM on November 6, 2004

I thought it was more because it searches for those words in the filename for the .jpg... or does it?
posted by jmccorm at 11:43 PM on November 6, 2004

"'s hard to believe Google would ever confirm that they're *so* out of date." - loquax

You may be right. I always go to other sources than Google when looking for pictures but I had no idea they were this bad. When I add this to the fact that most of my regular searches on Google now seem to come up Google Spam they seem to be crashing quickly.
posted by arse_hat at 11:46 PM on November 6, 2004

I'm glad I didn't post a shrill reactionary comment immediately after reading this, because I was very tempted and would now look more than moderately stupid.
posted by The God Complex at 11:47 PM on November 6, 2004

They also seem to have no photos of the 2004 election or the presidential debates, or the Red Sox winning the World Series

Whatchoo talkin bout loquax?

Election 2004

Presidential debates

Red Sox world series

Dude, if you're going to accuse the rest of the playgroup of needing tin foil hats, the very least you can do is check your own assertions first, I'm just saying.

As to google having recent images, how's election stuff from a couple of days ago work for you?

In other words darlin', lovely though you may be, you're talking out of your ass on this one.
posted by dejah420 at 11:47 PM on November 6, 2004

yeah, google images only updates like twice a year. I like a good conspiracy as much as the next guy, but not this time I'm afraid. -- by krunk

Patently, provably false. See my post above.
posted by dejah420 at 11:49 PM on November 6, 2004

Dejah420, the first three searches you posted were exactly what I did, but they're almost all old images. Look more closely at the presidents that are debating there. And you might want to see which election Bush won in your second link! ;)

*Some* newer images come up, but not nearly as many as you'd expect.

Thanks for the compliment though!
posted by loquax at 11:52 PM on November 6, 2004

Hey dejah, I think they're right -- those image results seem to fall into two categories: 1) images that could easily be a year old, and 2) very recent news sources. As to 1) the electoral map is actually from the 2000 election, and as to 2) the quote above does say that current news images are included in results. The abu ghraib images fall in between these categories: not in the news lately, but not a year old. It does seem weird to get complete buggerall for "lynndie england" but the story seems to hang together.
posted by George_Spiggott at 11:54 PM on November 6, 2004

I dig what you're saying Lo and George, but the fact is that if *any* new images come up, then they are obviously updating more than twice a year. Also, in my links above, I made a mistake and included the link with the query for "bush win election", when the one I should have included was "bush win election 2004". It's late.

My point is that there are things referenced (from a date standpoint) on either side of the Abu Ghirab story. That these pictures are missing is very strange and cannot be attributed to Google not indexing more than twice a year.
posted by dejah420 at 12:15 AM on November 7, 2004

Ok, I'm getting close to letting loose with a shrill reactionary comment now. Damn you and your insistence on common sense, dejah.
posted by The God Complex at 12:20 AM on November 7, 2004

Also Loquax, I shouldn't have been that snarky...what with the accusation of derriere discussion. I apologize. It was uncalled for. (On the up side, I wasn't being sarcastic with the, there's that. ;)

And now, I'm going to bed, before I remember something else I forgot to post...
posted by dejah420 at 12:23 AM on November 7, 2004

I don't know that any of those photos are from 2004. They look like random photos of Kerry. And there are only 31 hits for "Bush win election 2004", quite a few less than if all the images were properly indexed, I'm sure. They do seem to add newer images, but randomly and very few of them (search for the hurricanes this season, some images are returned, but only 5-10). I don't know how Google does it, but I'd bet a large sum of money that they'll finally catch up to their competitors and have them up by year end. This thread would be an excellent candidate for a follow-up. And besides, as long as the normal web search returns all the image-bearing links you could ever want, it's hard to see what anyone would hope to accomplish by blocking the image search feature only.
posted by loquax at 12:23 AM on November 7, 2004

Dejah - no prob!
posted by loquax at 12:28 AM on November 7, 2004

I guess I wasn't clear on my second point. As cited above, Google Images says it will return recent news images with results:

Sometimes I see what appear to be news photos at the top of my results. Why is that?
If you're searching Google Images for a particular subject, it's likely you'll want to see the very latest images available as well as those created some time ago. If we find images that match your search in Google News, we deliver them at the top of the Google Images results page. Because news is time sensitive, your search may show news images one day, but not another or the news images may be different each time you search on the subject.
posted by George_Spiggott at 12:30 AM on November 7, 2004

I just sent an e-mail to Google, asking if they have any explanation for this sort of odd search behavior. If I get a response, I'll be sure to post it.
posted by LimePi at 12:57 AM on November 7, 2004

LimePi - On another thread discussing this, others have reported that they receive this standard reply from the image search FAQ when they email Google to inquire.
posted by loquax at 1:03 AM on November 7, 2004

Here's a article that claims the googledance is done once a month.
posted by esch at 1:47 AM on November 7, 2004

Funny, I actually tried Googling for Abu Ghraib photos a week ago, and had the same problem. I tried the image search to no avail, even though one of the first three results in Google (regular) is a webpage entitled "THE ABU GHRAIB PRISON PHOTOS", which is a pretty simple site with large, friendly images, dated June 11th.
posted by Civil_Disobedient at 3:46 AM on November 7, 2004

Interesting. I tried searching on "Lynndie England google images" in regular Google and found a fair amount of discussion about this issue. Much of it pre-election; did we miss something?
posted by mmahaffie at 6:26 AM on November 7, 2004

dejah, i don't get your point. those searches you linked to aren't really returning current images.
posted by glenwood at 6:36 AM on November 7, 2004

Guantanamo torture does bring up images. And sorry, dejah, but you're wrong. Those searches bring up only old images. Nothing to see here--execept that GIS is worthless for current events.
posted by jpoulos at 7:06 AM on November 7, 2004
here a few pics you seek
posted by Postroad at 7:21 AM on November 7, 2004

BTW, as a state-level geospatial data coordinator, I'd like to briefly object to the use of "GIS" to denote Google Image Searching. "GIS" properly refers to Geographic Information Systems -- computer mapping. That's all. return to discussion....
posted by mmahaffie at 7:21 AM on November 7, 2004

This is a non-issue. You've become so convinced of Google's invincibility that when part of it doesn't work as it should, you think it's a conspiracy. In fact, Google Image searching JUST DOESN'T WORK WELL.

The exact same search on Google Web works perfectly.

There's no evidence Google is censoring anything (and I'm not even going to make the semantic argument that only governments can censor). If they were, why would the results show up as the number 4 hit on a regular Google search?

Here's how to make those images come up on an image search: Take those same images, rename them with something descriptive (abughraibtorture.jpg, lynndieengland.jpg, etc., including spelling variations of Abu Ghraib) and put them up on your site. After Googlebot has visited, they'll come up on a search. Try it now.

Why will this work? Because so far, almost all of the photos of Abu Ghraib prison torture have stupid names, no metadata, no alt text, bad text in the names of the hotlinks, and they appear on substandard, poorly linked sites. Googlebot is simply not drawing enough data from those images to index them well.

[this post contains comments I have posted elsewhere]
posted by Mo Nickels at 7:34 AM on November 7, 2004

PS: Even the page is barely linked to: only 146 times, mostly by fringe sites and foreign sites. I recommend that, if you want to do a Google bombing to see if you can get these images to come up on Google images, that you use the link Abu Ghraib torture photos:

<a href="" title="Abu Ghraib torture photos: Lynndie England, Lyndie Englund, Iraq, prison, Graib, american soldiers torturing iraqis">Abu Ghraib torture photos</a>
posted by Mo Nickels at 7:46 AM on November 7, 2004

I don't buy the lack-of-metadata argument. There are plenty of these images out there and surely some of them have metadata with them.

Why is it still on the regular Google Search? Maybe that would be too obvious for them to remove those links. Can't really say for sure.

Really though, it looks like Google Image Search just plain sucks and that their spidering is only done in some incomplete fashion (only stuff older than 8 months and current news items). We can know for sure in a couple months.

Somebody posted a Google Answers Question about this so that will help too.
posted by destro at 7:54 AM on November 7, 2004

If Altavista can get their thumbs out of their arses and bring back these images, then what is stopping the 'world leading' search engine on all of the internets? Conspiricy or not, I will be using Altavista a hell of a lot more in the future!
posted by DrDoberman at 8:05 AM on November 7, 2004

That lack of update frequency does explain why so many Google Image Searches give results that end up being 404's on their actual pages.
posted by smackfu at 10:05 AM on November 7, 2004

I've been using Devilfinder Image Browser which gives many images on all these searches.
posted by page404 at 10:06 AM on November 7, 2004

Hey, I just got an email from Google for a response on this even though I never emailed them. Seems they must be reading Mefi.

Hi JJ (assuming this is the right email address);

I wanted to pass on this email from sergey...I would have posted it into your metafilter story, but I do not have a login and they are not taking on new logins.

In short, There is no censorship here. We are embarassed that our image index is not updated as frequently as it should be. Expect a refresh in the near future.

In the meantime, you can just search on Google Web Search for [abu graib photos] [abu graib photos] [] to get plenty of what you are looking for

That siad, if you need anyhting from google in the future, please don't hesitate to contact me, maybe I can help.


posted by destro at 11:39 AM on November 7, 2004

I was asked to post the following comments by a non-mefi person who wanted to share his insights (apologies for the slow posting):

First, a disclaimer: I don't work or Google, so these are just educated guesses.
However, I do work with companies using the Google Search Appliance (a search solution produced by Google for searching company intranets), so I can shed at least a little insight.

First, while I don't know how often Google Images updates, there are some misinterpretations going on in the thread regarding HOW it searches. Google uses, basically, a web spider, which continually trawls through the net. As such, if there is a 6 month search cycle, it doesn't mean that everything gets updated on the same day across the net every six months. Instead, it essentially means that, once Google has trawled a site, it will return to check up on it within approximately 6 months. So some new images may show up while others do not, because they haven't been gotten to yet.

Second, as has been pointed out, Google will also check the images at Google News (and perhaps other news sites) in order to get current images. However, news sites tend to move things around (archiving older articles/images), so it wouldn't make sense for Google to keep image search results for news articles indefinitely. If it did so, "new" news items' search results would work, but everything over a month or two old would lead to missing pages.

As such, Google Image Search tends to find:
1) Old images,
2) Very new news article images, and
3) Other random images that it happens to have crawled to inbetween. The vast majority of the Abu Ghraib images are neither old enough to be permanently indexed, nor new enough to be temporarily "news" indexed, and fall into a gray area where they disappear. With a little more time, they will start showing up in the results again, as they are indexed by the standard, relatively slow crawling spider.

So it certainly doesn't appear to be a conspiracy or incompetence, just that people are expecting more from the technology than it is capable of, and misinterpreting the gap between their assumptions and reality.

-Michael Brucia
posted by krunk at 11:48 AM on November 7, 2004

I wanted to pass on this email from sergey

So Sergey Brin's an avid MeFi reader...?
posted by humuhumu at 1:23 PM on November 7, 2004

If you want an example that google images doesn't seem to have much from events 5 months ago or so, provides a site that google is unlikely to want to censor and has daily press releases on a variety of news, which include photos google images seems to like. The URLs of the press releases also make date-related searches easy (I have SafeSearch off, so I don't think I'm missing anything when I say there aren't any results): inurl:2003 inurl:06 - lots of images from June 2003 inurl:2004 inurl:03 - lots of images from March 2004 inurl:2004 inurl:04 - some images with "04" in the filename, but nothing from April 2004 inurl:2004 inurl:05 - no results at all (it should have results from May 2004)
There isn't anything for months 06-11 either.
It works for phrases too:
Bush HIV initiative - first result is from a June 2002 photo on
vs. Bush Clinton portrait - nothing from when Clinton's portrait was unveiled at the White House this June, even though the White House's press release (which has photos) is the second result on a regular google search of the same query.
Of course, I'm not able to get any current events photos to show up at all (Dejah420's "bush win election 2004" search just gives me old photos of Kerry looking delighted, and I get a tiny picture of Leiberman looking smug and two unrelated pictures for "Kerry concedes") so I may be getting weird results.
posted by Nick Tamm at 2:24 PM on November 7, 2004

C'mon, Matt, cantcha make an exception for Sergey?

Nice Freudian spelling error, you turned up, crash:

MetaFilter: Let us make it even more sectacular
posted by Vidiot at 4:51 PM on November 7, 2004

Oops, that link should go here, not to crash's user page.

(Although I'm sure he's a very nice person, when not posting haiku.)
posted by Vidiot at 4:52 PM on November 7, 2004

Thankfully, GIS is still aces for pictures of smoking monkeys.

Because, well, you never know.
posted by yhbc at 4:53 PM on November 7, 2004

Way I've heard it, the grand majority of a Google employee's time is spent defusing situations like these, where someone thinks they've been intentionally given the shaft due to one flaw or another in the Google God Engine, forcing some poor coder to scramble around to fix things up again.

I wouldn't be too terribly concerned about it...
posted by kaibutsu at 5:59 PM on November 7, 2004

Google employee and Slashdot editor Chris DiBona passes on a message from Sergey: In short, There is no censorship here. We are embarassed that our image index is not updated as frequently as it should be. Expect a refresh in the near future.

Case closed? More geeky discussion on Slashdot. (Yes, it's Slashdot, but bear with me)
posted by zsazsa at 7:01 PM on November 7, 2004

Oops, looks like Chris mailed destro already. That's what I get for skimming.
posted by zsazsa at 7:03 PM on November 7, 2004

I posted the links to the slashdot story to Google Answers just to get all meta on their ass. A lot of people don't know that there is almost zero communication between the Google Answers "researchers" and anyone who actually works at Google. I worked there for months and didn't know the name or email address of a single person at Google except the editor@ address.
posted by jessamyn at 11:11 AM on November 8, 2004

Oh hey, looks like that Google Answers question about it was removed. "The requested content is no longer available. It has been removed by a Google editor. " That was quick. Censorship! [j/k]
posted by jessamyn at 12:18 PM on November 8, 2004

Google isn't all bad, check this out, Google Saves Freelance Journalist. Now if Bush can only get Google to get after them terrorists we'll be all set.
posted by fenriq at 1:06 PM on November 8, 2004

"Please, God, made it didn't happen". Fuckers.

What would they have to do before you could forgive them?
posted by ed\26h at 2:46 AM on November 9, 2004

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