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The disturbing result is presented when the phrase “desk ornament” is entered into Google Images — with dozens of the top results being pictures of Nazi sculptures. The images included ornaments bearing the shaped like the swastika symbol, the double lightning-bolt logo of the Schutzstaffel (SS) and the Nazi-era Reichsadler (“Imperial Eagle”). These were interspersed with more pictures of more conventional items like desktop globes, hourglass and Newton’s cradles.
On Reddit, users responded with shock — and speculated what caused the phenomena.
User _BassDoll wrote: “When you Google ‘Desk Ornament,’ the result is… well, disturbing. Pages and pages of swastikas, imperial eagles and nazi memoabilia, all from militaty and nazi websites.
“I’d say it was a 4chan psyop, but I scrolled pol [the anonymous political discussion image board on 4chan] for a while and no-one was talking about it, and 4chan isn’t exactly tight-lipped about stuff like this.”
Supergatovisual added: “Same results with DuckDuckGo and Bing, wtf?”
User MK2555GSFX, meanwhile, had an explanation for the phenomena: “It’s because the pages are absolutely STUFFED with the phrase ‘desk ornament’ “
One of the offensive pictures, he showed, came from a site that featured that search term a whopping 108 times — putting a finger on the scales of Google’s algorithm.
A Google spokesperson told Express.co.uk: “We understand these are disturbing results, and we share the concern about this content. It does not reflect our opinions.
“When people search for images on Google, our systems largely rely on matching the words in your query to the words that appear next to images on the web page.
“We’ve done considerable work in improving instances where we return low quality content, and will continue to improve our systems.
“We are actively working on scalable improvements that we believe should improve results for this query and others like it.”
Google said that they have, for multiple years, had a fully staffed, permanent team working on the challenge of ensuring that the platform’s algorithms reduce the potential for returning offensive results like these Nazi ornaments.
They added that when they identify areas that need improvement, they focus on creating solutions that improve results for a large number of queries, rather than individual results pages with poor results.
One can only assume that this is why the “desk ornaments” issue is not a recent problem — but one that was occurring as far back as six years ago.
In 2016, the magazine website Cracked.com tweeted: “FYI the first page results for Google images ‘desk ornaments’ includes: three Swastikas, Bust of Hitler, Weasel, two Nazi eagles, ‘Top banana’.”
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The persistence of the “desk ornament” issue is all that more surprising, however, when one considers that Google suggested in 2020 that it was their policy to remove offensive and racist content from their platform.
This assertion was made in the wake of a BBC investigation that found that white-supremacist flags, neo-Nazi books and Ku Klux Klan mechandise were all available for purchase on Google, Amazon and Wish.
In response to the investigation, Google removed this content — along with racist material added to the Google Books and Google Play stores — and told the BBC: “We don’t allow ads or products that are sold on our platforms that display shocking content or promote hatred.
“We enforce these policies vigorously and take action when we determine they are breached.”
Later the same year, a Google spokesperson told Slate.com that they “have strict policies against content that promotes hatred, intolerance, discrimination or violence against others.”
Despite this, however, the search term “desk ornaments” in Google Images still yields links to various websites selling Nazi paraphernalia.
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