Being of a sophisticated and inquisitive nature, I decided today to Google search for “Butt.” As I finished the word the typical list of suggestions appeared:
But then, when I hit the spacebar, they all vanished. I tried again. And again, the same thing. No-space gave me butterfly tattoos and buttons. Space gave me bupkis. I wondered, “Is Google trying to tell me something?” I was no longer seeking mere search results; I was seeking answers. So I did what anyone would do. I typed in “Ass.”
Same thing. No-space, 10 recommendations. Space, zilch. As soon as it was clear I wasn’t looking for the Associated Press or a health provider, my query was deemed undeniably dirty, and I got the shaft.
Abandoning synonyms I went for “Boobs.” Nothing at all. (Nor for the singular.) And “penis”? Shot down once again.
I contacted Google to ask if there was a policy preventing search suggestions for inappropriate words. And there is:
We try to filter out suggestions that include pornographic terms, dirty words, and hate and violence terms.
In essence Google is taking a step back, so as not to endorse the smut you’re looking for, a spokesperson confirmed. (Of course, the search engine will still go get it for you, as long as you’re specific.) I asked if they’d provide a list of no-no words. They said, “no.”
But if what I’m looking for could be part of a harmless word — like the “ass” in assault rifles, for example — I’ll at least come up with something. Which makes it particularly interesting that you get the following from “vagi”…
…but as soon as you put an “n” on there, the suggestion list goes blank. According to Google: Vagi = A-OK; Vagin = Nish Nish. Ladies, looks like you’ll have to go straight to WebMD for that vaginal itching.
Oh, and don’t even bother looking up “Dick.” All you get are Dicks Vitale, Blick, Tracy, Clark and Cheney.
I think the lesson here is that freedom of speech — including its manifestations in a digital world, call it freedom of search — is sacred. More so is our collective right to publicly disavow our perverted or antisocial inclinations. It’s all out there, and someone else is thinking it, too. Like Google, we’ll just pretend we don’t know that.