A couple days back, a web site propped up a photo of Michelle Obama as an ape. The photo is obscene and offensive and that's all that should be said about it.
The backstory, however, is of interest. The website, which I can't track down, put up this photo and figured out how to get recognized at the top of several word searches from Google. The folks at Google didn't notice that they were creating traffic for this obscene photo. By the time they did, the photo had travelled to several other sites.
Eventually, Google did take down links to this site but not because of the obscene nature of the site. Instead, the site had collected several viruses. That's an often side effect to creating obscene material. Hackers try and punish you by creating viruses on your site. I found that out when doing a series on racist web sites which also are under the constant threat of virus.
The only story I've found so far on this is one on a Russian language site.
Имидж, демонстрирующий Мишель в виде примата, появляется в поиске картинок на Google, на одной из первых страниц. Призывы заблокировать доступ к оскорбительному изображению были отвергнуты. Пресс-представитель Google заявил, что доступ к сайту, где впервые появилась картинка, был заблокирован из-за того, что сайт содержал вирусы. Изображение, однако, вскоре было продублировано десятком других сайтов и вновь появилось в топе поисковика.
Essentially, the story says everything I've said and also says that according to Google, they don't censor based on content. As such, such offensive material wouldn't necessarily be censored from Google searches. In fact, that's true. You can find porn, hate sites, bomb making sites, on such search engines as Google. Google took down the site after the virus was discovered. Google represetatives said that they will take down a site from their searches if a virus is discovered but they won't take down a site based on content, because that's a free speech issue.
That's a specious argument. No one has the right to appear on a Google search. As such, Google can take any site down from their searches for any reason. They can, as a matter of policy, allow all content on their search engines because Google doesn't want to self censor based on content. That said, that wouldn't be a matter of law but an internal policy.
In fact, I would agree with such a policy because offensive is a subjective idea. Once any search engine begins to censor based on content anything can become offensive and free speech would be infringed. That said, that free speech would be infringed by a private company on their own internet sphere which they would have every right to do.