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Does Google edit swear words from the results of popular searches – or is it doing Jan Moir a favour?

November 10, 2009 No Comment

I still get several visitors a day looking for Jan Moir. And while idly checking Google's results for a Jan Moir search, I noticed that a top-10 result for the Angry Mob's site - a post from September called Jan Moir: I'm thinking she's a piece of shit - has been toned down in Google's results.

So does Google edit out swear words for popular searches? Or has it done a manual hack on this one post to spare Jan's blushes? The evidence is leaning towards the latter ... (I should apologise in advance for all the swearing - I've tried to limit it to only to what is necessary. Beware of running the google searches I describe - they will show swear words).

The curious case of the missing swearword

Here's a screenshot of the Google results page, showing the post (now at position 13) for a search on [Jan Moir]:

Jan Moir: picture shows no swear word

Jan Moir: picture shows no swear word

Jan Moir is no longer a bit of excrement. Until recently, Google showed the full title (ie including swearword) in its results. Now, instead, the title is given as "Jan Moir - Angry Mob - we read the papers everyday" (the URL still shows the word 'shit' though).

This title text doesn't appear anywhere like that on the page - it's just the first two words of the page title, and then the site's name and strapline (as it appears on the homepage title). Click through to the Google cache and the page has the real title, swear word and all.

It seems impossible to make Google return the real title. Search for Jan Moir and the s word, and you see the same as above. Search for Jan Moir I'm thinking, and you see a title of "Jan Moir: I'm thinking she's a piece - Angry Mob" - a slightly different title, but no swear word again:

Different title for the same Jan Moir post - but still no swear word

Different title for the same Jan Moir post - but still no swear word

These searches are all with the google SafeSearch filter set to moderate ("Filter explicit images only - default behavior"). Changing to "Do not filter my search results" doesn't make any difference.

Google and swearing

I can't find any policy of Google's about swear words in results. On the one hand, I can see why they'd want to exclude them as children could be surfing.

On the other hand, Google suggest throws up insults about Gordon Brown and Prince Charles.

And it's incredibly easy to make swear words appear. As Joanna Butler pointed out to me, the Urban Dictionary has loads of results with the s word in. And Dean Cruddace showed me how a search for the internet is includes the s word in the second result. Search for Gordon Brown is and you get the c word on the first page ...

Conclusion

Initially I thought maybe Google tries to keep swear words out of the results for popular searches. This would explain why searches for 'Gordon Brown is' (not a common search) show swear words but a search for 'Jan Moir' doesn't (searches for which rocketed in October according to Google Insights).

But this doesn't explain why the 'shit' title for the Angry Mob's post isn't shown for a search on 'Jan Moir I'm thinking' - a search which isn't going to be popular, and which shows yet another variation on the title.

So that leaves us with Google hand editing the title to remove the swear word.

What do you think?

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