Is Google censoring auto-complete searches for Islam? “Islam is…”?

Google’s autocomplete function has suggested common searches for all of the major (and some less popular) religions. Except for Islam. This has been discussed in this Reddit thread, by Godless Blogger, and Google discussion group.

At about midnight on Jan. 5, 2009, I conducted the following searches on Google, Bing and Yahoo!. The screenshots are below:

Google autocompletes for Judaism is

Google autocompletes for Judaism is


Google autocomplete: “Judaism is false/not a race/not a religion/a race/not jewish/a cult”


Google autocomplete: “Christianity is bullshit/not a religion/a lie/false/a cult/dying”

Google autocomplete for "Buddhism is"
Google autocomplete: “Buddhism is not a religion/a not what you think/wrong/polytheistic/bullshit”

Google autocomplete for Hinduism is

Google autocomplete for Hinduism is


Google autocomplete: “Hinduism is monotheistic/the majority religion of/false/polytheistic/not a religion/a way of life”

Google autocompletes for Mormonism is

Google autocompletes for Mormonism is


Google autocomplete: “Mormonism is a cult/bullshit/false/wrong/retarded/fake/a lie/not christianity”

Google autocomplete for Scientology is

Google autocomplete for Scientology is


Google autocomplete: “Scientology is a cult/bullshit/a joke/retarded/not a religion/a scam”

Google autocompletes for Pantheism Is

Google autocompletes for Pantheism Is


Google autocomplete: “Pantheism is the belief/sexed up atheism/the belief that”

So, Google users have all sorts of thoughts about the world’s religions in the form of “xyz is”…what do they think about Islam?

Google's autocompletes for Islam Is

Google's autocompletes for Islam Is

Yahoo! and Bing’s search-users seem to have an opinion though:

Yahoo autocompletes for Islam is

Yahoo autocompletes for Islam is

Bing autocompletes for Islam is

Bing autocompletes for Islam is

*****

There are a few explanations for this, besides the simplest – and most disturbing – explanation of Google being pushed into self-censorship . Perhaps no one ever searches for “Islam is…”…but that seems pretty weak considering even “Pantheism is” returns a few searches. And there must be more people who search for “Islam is [something...ANYTHING]” than “I want to do a poo at paul’s”.

If the simplest explanation is true…then rather go down again the painful path of manually deciding which groups to protect…why not kill the autocomplete function once and for all? It is both the most useless addendum to basic search and it doesn’t reflect Google’s own editorial opinion – which would at least be understandable from a business/PR perspective. It doesn’t require Google to hide any content of value; has the average Internet user devolved into such a blathering zombie that, when arriving at a search box, he/she can’t figure out what query he/she went to the search box to ask in the first place (furthermore, shouldn’t open-minded people be querying ‘XYZ’ before jumping right into ‘XYZ is false’? Ideally, if you did your proper reading and reflection, the second query would be totally unnecessary…)?

I guess I don’t want to know the answer to that question…

I'm a programmer, data journalist, and photographer in New York City. I'm the author of three in-progress books: The Bastards Books of Ruby, Photography, and Regular Expressions.