If you Googled the words "miserable failure" in late 2003, the number two result would've brought you to a link to President George W. Bush's biography. His disputed presidential tactics aside, this Google glitch wasn't actually a result of wording within President Bush's biography. Instead, it was the result of a little something called "Google bombing," a tactic, according to the myth-busting site Snopes, organized by George Johnston. Johnston used his blog to encourage its readers to link the phrase "miserable failure," to President Bush's bio on their own web domains.
Now, two days after our current President Barack Obama joined Twitter with a personal account, it seems the Internet is harkening back to a similar, user-edited Google entry "prank" in a significantly more racist way.
As of Wednesday at 11:15 a.m., if you search the term "n----r house" in Google Maps, an icon will direct you toward the home of our 44th president, the White House.
Google Maps relies on user location to tailor what data it shows in a search. For example, if a user near Maryland and Washington, D.C. searches for "n----r university" in Google Maps, the site will point you right toward Howard University, an HBCU (historically black college and university) located in the Nation's Capital.
Surely you're thinking, "But I'm not near Maryland or D.C. Does the Greater Philadelphia area have its own racist university Google Maps search result?" Fear not. We do.
A Google Maps result for "n----r university" searched from Philadelphia drops a red placemark icon over Lincoln University, an HBCU located about an hour away from the city in Oxford, Pennsylvania.
The disturbing phenomenon seemed to have risen to social media attention Tuesday afternoon when a few users, prominently a user named "Bomani X" @AceBoonCoon posted an image of his Google Maps "n---a house" search showing the white house. Hours later, he posted a screenshot of his Howard University finding.
Likely, according to self-proclaimed "ethical hacker" Bryan Seely, the racial slurs were linked to various places associated with black people using a Google Maps loophole, he detailed to Search Engine Land. The same loophole, he said, allowed him to list the White House as a snowboard shop called "Edward's Snow Den." About the loophole, Seely told Search Engine Land:
You create a business in Google Maps at an address where you can receive mail and with a phone number you can receive calls to. You get Google to send you a verification postcard to the address. Once the business is verified, you delete it from your account. Then you use another Google account to claim this now orphaned business. You gain control over it by doing verification via phone. Once that's happened, you're free to move the business to anywhere you want, change the name and alter other details.
Google Maps has caught heat in the past for user-submitted edits related to maps with its Map Maker product, which enabled users to manipulate maps by drawing things like rivers, roads and green spaces into Google Maps. Map Maker was suspended on May 12 after a user drew an Android icon relieving itself on an Apple icon.
Thanks, probably, to this lovely loophole, the search for the term "n----r" on Google Maps from Philadelphia yields a diverse cornucopia of results including Princeton University, known for having an expansive African American Studies program, Delaware State University, an HBCU, and KFC, because, of course, among other listings.
Amid the controversy, Google released a statement Tuesday night saying, "Some inappropriate results are surfacing in Google Maps that should not be, and we apologize for any offense this may have caused. Our teams are working to fix this issue quickly." At the time this is being posted, Google has not yet resolved the problem.