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Google Instant filters put gay and lesbian on a par with rape, racism and paedophilia

September 13, 2010 20 Comments

Google's new Instant search (where results are displayed as you type, rather than waiting for you to finish typing and press search) has filters in place to stop, for instance, results for "cock" appearing midway through typing "Cockfosters" or for results for offensive terms appearing unless you actively choose to see them.

But Google Instant is filtering words like gay, lesbian and hate crime, putting them on a par with terms like paedophilia, rape and nigger. Meanwhile it's allowing Instant results to be shown when you search for coon, necrophilia, kiddie fiddler, paki jokes and female genital mutilation.

How the filter works

Google says that:

"Q: If an offensive or lewd word is a fraction of my query, will Google push these results in front of me as I type?

A: ... autocomplete excludes certain terms related to pornography, violence and hate speech."

It also says that:

While we always strive to neutrally and objectively reflect the diversity of content on the web (some good, some objectionable), we also apply a narrow set of removal policies for pornography, violence, and hate speech.

What triggers the filter

Words/phrases that tigger its "pornography, violence and hate speech" filter include the following:

Gay, lesbian, clitoris, teen slut, pre teen models, coprophilia, rape, paedophilia, pussycat dolls, dirty sanchez, nigger, nude, naked, vagina monologues, ching chang chinaman, darkie, paris hilton, kendra wilkinson video, soapy tit wank, lesbianism, donkey knockout, huge melons, fingercuffs, funbags, jubblies, hate crime.

You can experiment with what's blocked/excluded by Google Instant by logging in to your Google account and searching at If you try to search for one of the blocked terms, instead of seeing Instant results, you just see a blank page and the words "Press enter to search".

Here's a screnshot if you type "lesbian" in - no results are shown unless you press enter.

Search for lesbian - and results are blocked until you press enter

Search for lesbian - and results are blocked until you press enter

What isn't filtered

While words/phrases that Google will show results for are as follows:

Heterosexual, sexuality, kiddie fiddler, female genital mutilation, necrophilia, islam is bullshit, obama is a muslim, david cameron is a prick, underwear pre, bint, stinky hitler, coon, ching chang china man, lindsay lohan, kendra wilkinson video watch, strip poker pictures, homosexual animals, bathing the dog, erection, paki jokes, eyeties, pikey, darkey, kaffir, racist jokes.

So here's what you see if you type "paki jokes" - a set of pages with racist jokes. These results aren't excluded / blocked - unlike when you type "lesbian", they are shown automatically.

Results of pages with racist jokes

Results of pages with racist jokes

(My search settings are set to "Filter explicit images only - default behavior".)

What is Google Instant trying to say?

This throws up a number of questions ...

  • Why are gay and lesbian blocked? How are they "pornography, violence and hate speech"? What message is Google Instant giving out by putting them on a blocked list with terms like paedophilia and nigger, while allowing terms like heterosexual, necrophilia, kiddie fiddler, coon and paki jokes?
  • Why is hate crime blocked but not paki jokes?
  • Why are frankly laughable terms like jubblies blocked - but not racist terms like kaffir or coon? As a man, I may be projecting my own prejudices here, but those racist terms feel like hate terms to me - whereas jubblies seems just puerile.

The blocked terms appear to have nothing to do with what's shown on the results. Cum shot is blocked, but not money shot - even though searching for the latter shows up the wikipedia page for cum shot. Type "Peaches " at and you can see the lyrics for "fuck the pain away" at result number two.

Worst of all, the (blocked) results for hate crime show pages addressing the problems; while the (non-blocked) results for paki jokes list racist "jokes".

So it would appear that Google Instant is filtering on the term itself, not the results. Which means it genuinely thinks that the terms gay and lesbian count as one of "pornography, violence and hate speech".

Google: Filters are needed, obviously. The way you've implemented them sends out the wrong message. They need a rethink.

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  • Andy Nattan says:

    That's just ridiculous twattery from Google. "Looking to tell a racist joke? Go ahead! Just don't be gay."

  • BobisOnlyBob says:

    As a CS student, I know how nightmarish blacklists are. No matter what you block, someone will find a euphemism or way around it. The fact that Google Instant has a delay-filter isn't really censorship, but it's just somewhat pointless in light of the examples above. They should just remove the "no instant search" blacklist. It's not worth getting offended over; they tried to do something sensible to prevent perverse or overly sexual results from being delivered during an innocuous query, and only half-implemented it. Human nature prevails over technology. They do need to fix it, though; ideally no blacklist whatsoever, otherwise they're just going to waste time chasing down every new euphemism and turn of phrase until the "Instant" search just plain isn't.

  • [...] Malcolm Coles pinged me on Twitter after this was posted about his story, Google Instant filters put gay and lesbian on a par with rape, racism and paedophilia. Some of the terms he found blocked as possibly pornographic [...]

  • David says:

    That is how it's done, they release a feature to a subset of users then tweak accordingly, then it's live for all and they tweak it at that scale, so I have no doubt it will be improved.
    The word "gay" isn't filtered.

  • [...] might seem resolutely trivial to some people, but it’s certainly interesting. Malcolm Coles blogged about this earlier – I’m just riding his coat tails – and the reason seems to be that there may be some things [...]

  • Amy Teeple says:

    As mentioned by @David, "gay" is allowed but "lesbian" isn't. However, if I type "fag," results come up for "faggot," add the extra "g" and it disappears. Another derogatory term, "dyke" is not blocked at all. So, according to Google, it's not OK to research anything related to being a lesbian, unless you are willing to be crass and say "dyke." As a lesbian, I am offended and hope this is something that will be corrected.

    I am happy to see that "homosexual" and "LGBT" is not blocked. However, "bisexual" is. Ugh!

    Thanks for pointing this out.

  • David / Amy - when you say "gay" isn't filtered, what do you see? When I type the letters g-a-y, I see autocomplete suggestions for gaydar, gayromeo, gaydar girls, gaydar radio and gaydio.

    But no results are shown when I get to the letter "y" - and there is no light grey text after "gay" (which is what usually happens when Google is showing you results for what it thinks you're going to type). So it's not that it's thinking I'm going to type "gaydar" and then not showing me results for that. It seems to be not showing results for the word "gay". (In contrast, if I type "gayd" then "ar" appears afterwards in light grey text - but no results are shown as "gaydar" is a filtered/blocked word).

    However, if I type "gay " (ie with a space), I then see gay pride, gay test, gay pride brighton and gay games as autocomplete suggestions - with "gay " as the last one. If I select "gay ", I do then see results for "gay " without having to press enter.

    This seems really odd to me. It won't show me results for "gay" but it will for "gay " ... Does this count as "gay" being filtered or not?!

  • PS I'm not the only one who sees gay as being filtered - read, among others, - although there are similar google forums with people asking why lesbian is filtered but not gay.

    Google Instant is personalised, so maybe it's deciding some of us are up to seeing results and some of us aren't. Who knows!

  • Amy Teeple says:

    Now that I am looking at the results for "gay" without the space, I see that Google DID add the space and returns results for "gay marriage." Odd, I don't even need to add the space to get those results (it also suggests "gaydar," "gayot," and "gaylord" without anything but "gay"). I wonder if the "gay marriage" autocomplete for me is due to the fact that I have searched for news on that topic in the past.

    Someone at Google needs to work on that filter.

  • Amy - the gay marriage / space thing is how it's supposed to work (sort of). It's showing you results for the unblocked term that you're most likely to be searching for.

    When you type "gay" it doesn't want to show you results for that, so returns results for "gay marriage" (clearly if you get married, you're the right sort of gay ...). As you say, it is personalised so is affected by your past searches.

    But then that doesn't explain why you can't see lesbian results. Google's fairly dismissive of the issue in its own forums - so far. Let's hope if we point it out enough they do something about it ...

  • [...] highlighted by the number of filtered words and the ability of Google to adequately cope with the naughty word vocabulary of modern [...]

  • Andy B says:

    SEORT is reporting that Google is going to fix the Instant result for [lesbian]


  • I turned Google instant off. They annoys & creeps me out. i feel like Google is reading my head. yay!

    Also, it my connection is slow

  • George McKellar says:

    What's wrong with Google Instant not banning a term such as Paki Jokes? Or is it the word Paki that you don't like? Someone from Austrailia is an Aussie, someone from Iran is an Irani, from Israel an Isreali, from Kuwait is a Kuwaiti, yet you find that someone from Pakistan shouldn't be called a Paki? or is it the fact that it's humour that is not to your taste - how about American Jokes, Irish Jokes, mother-in-law jokes - or is it that you don't find humour funny on principle? It's you that's the racist pal, not Google instant!

  • [...] a rush of talk about the dreaded “blacklist” that Google has applied to Instant, and how seemingly reasonable searches will not show up unless you complete the search word and click “Search” or hit Enter.In [...]

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