Winston Churchill's Image Disappears From Google Search Results As Statue Covered In London

On Sunday those searching on Google noticed the image of Winston Churchill was missing in the Google Search Knowledge Graph -- boxes in results that provide more information about a person, place or thing.

Knowledge Panels summarize key information. Typically, an image accompanies information sourced from Wikipedia such as key dates, family, quote, and related queries. On Sunday the image disappeared, but by Monday it returned.

With calls for social reform surging worldwide and the demand to remove statues of confederate officers in the United States, some may have thought, let’s rewrite history and begin with the disappearance of Winston Churchill’s picture in the Knowledge Graph.

A statue of Winston Churchill in Parliament Square in London was boarded up for protection ahead of recent protests, after it had been previously defaced with the word "racist."



Initially, the missing image of Churchill touched off a series of questions much more thought-provoking than a missing image in Google Search results. This followed the news last week that the community of Fort Myers, Florida removed the statue of Robert E. Lee, “out of fear of it being destroyed.”

Lee led a treasonous Army, but rather than deface the monuments, tear them down or break them into pieces, those in the U.S. can acknowledge the centuries of hypocrisy and oppression the black community has dealt with, unearth them and put the statues in a museum to reflect on the mistakes made by our ancestors, even those who unfortunately still hold on to the same beliefs today. 

Marketers have the ability to shift stereotypes and lay the groundwork for new thought processes, and should use this for good.

Search engines have been accused of creating bias by serving specific content at the top of the page to lead people to think a certain way. "Theories posted on social media suggested that the disappearance of Churchill's photo was connected to a statue commemorating him being boarded up in central London's Parliament Square," reported Newsweek. 

Others suggest that the targeting of the statue and the disappearance of the image were due to the actions of Black Lives Matter protesters. The words "is a racist" were written on the monument during a previous BLM protest.

Google acknowledged the disappearance shortly after the disappearance of the Knowledge Graph image. "this was not purposeful & will be resolved," wrote Google. "Images in such panels are automatically created & updated. During an update they can briefly disappear." 

The disappearance, even briefly, reminded me that there are people who would like to rewrite history. Like others, I have become cynical. 

The photo, it turns out, has been missing since April. Google’s automation had picked a photo of the former British prime minister as a younger man, but users complained that it was not represented. Google employees monitoring the system stopped the photo of the younger Churchill from serving up, but Google’s technology was to automatically select a new photo, and it never did.

Although I was born a White Jewish woman and have Hispanic grandchildren, I have learned a lot about racism in the past few weeks. I’m not going to get on my soapbox about how parents of every race, background, circumstance and religion need to raise their children without prejudice and fear of authority. 

People are people, however, and frankly, the media is partially to blame. A colleague said that news is only news if it’s bad. On Friday, news was reported that a White male Atlanta police officer fatally shot a Black man on Friday. To me, the most important element of this news was that an Atlanta police officer fatally shot a man on Friday. I also want to know whether the police officer had been reprimanded during his career, especially recently. If he had, why was he an officer training a recent recruit?  

Police reform is urgently needed in order to help the country heal and move to a better place.

There is also an opportunity for brands to step up and unite with consumers, make a difference by rethinking messages and showing solidarity.

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