Marketing 5 min read

How Redditors Manipulated Google's Image Search Engine

GongTo |

GongTo |

Reddit, long used as the Internet’s premier discussion forum, alleged that some of their users have been manipulating Google image search results.This method has been taken to new heights by a community of supporters of President-elect Donald J. Trump, and the results are astounding.

Google employs different ranking methods in order to display ideal results first. One of the methods is called “PageRank,”  where the number of links pointing to the page influences its rank. Another is the “anchor text,” the relevance of the text in the URL slug.

Savvy Reddit users (Redditors) have exploited these ranking methods to create a so‐called “Google bomb.” These can be images and/or pages they cause to be highly ranked for certain searches. This is a type of Search Engine Optimization (SEO).

If you search Google Images for ’45th President,’ you will see Donald Trump’s image as the #1 result. This image is a part of an r/The_Donald Google bomb.

Pro-Trump Subredditors Point Towards Left-Leaning Bias

r/The_Donald Redditor’s close observation of Google search mechanics has led them to draw some interesting conclusions.

For example, many Reddit users believe Google was intentionally suppressing certain results for a Google search regarding the Hillary Clinton email scandal. When they noticed that a search for ‘Hillary Clinton cr’ was not auto-populated by ‘Hillary Clinton crime,’ it raised their suspicions as to who was affecting this error.

google image search results for rapist
There cannot be any doubt that this election has challenged ranking algorithms.

Google’s Image Search Results for Rapist have been heavily skewed by the elections, with both left and right manipulating the results.

In response, r/The_Donald’s members have dropped several Google bombs, including:

  • If you search Google Images for ’45th President,’ you will see Donald Trump’s image as the #1 result. This image is a part of an r/The_Donald Google bomb.
  • Type ‘rapist’ in Google Image Search, and you will see Donald Trump’s and Bill Clinton’s images (among some other, badly beaten faces NSFW). The #1 result is Donald Trump’s image. r/The_Donald’s Google bomb, depicting former President Bill Clinton, came in at #5.
  • They are even trying to get Melania Trump’s image to rank in a Google image search for ‘First Lady of the United States.’
  • See this post which has successfully ranked an image of CNN’s logo to the search term, “fake news.”

Keep in mind that the rankings for these search terms can change drastically. In many cases, however, these Redditors have accomplished their goal.

reddit the_donald promoting bill clinton in the search engine as racist
Edgy Collage: this is how it’s done. Just a handful of multiple dozens of examples. Search Engine Ranking does not simply rely on backlinks. In this case, it relies on citations: the association of a word set in the context of an image. The frequency and social validation signal the Google Algorithm that this is a relevant search result.

Edgy Labs found the use of this SEO technique on The_Donald systemic and purposeful (bigly). Often multiple times in one day, this technique would be used to promote a political message in Google Image Search.

Reddit Loses Trust Upon Handling r/The_Donald’s Methods

Despite Reddit itself accusing The_Donald subreddit community of “fostering and encouraging harassment,” the accused have insisted that they “aren’t going anywhere until they [Reddit admins] MAKE us go somewhere.”

Regarding the ranking tactic r/The_Donald employs, they promise, “We will stay here and sh*#post our hearts out.”

At one point, the r/The_Donalds’ page title was called ‘The Front Page of Reddit‘, since Reddit’s main page title is ‘The Front Page of the Internet’. The subreddit’s users upvoted nearly every article (they call this high-energy), so the moderators quickly figured out that by making posts sticky, they can nearly always determine which posts will make it to the front page.


How does a government, in this case Reddit, respond to civil disobedience? Power moderators and even ‘spez’, the CEO of Reddit have been found manipulating users’s comments and creating algorithms to censor r/The_Donald, violating the trust of the entire platform.

Reddit’s actions have been widely condemned, and are seen at Edgy Labs as an abuse of power. We believe it is time to have an open dialog about our values and rights, a constitution for the internet. Reddit is not an isolated case. This election has left our precious free internet vulnerable.

The Truth of a Search Engine Result

If the Reddit communities can successfully influence Google search results, one must wonder how many others act against Google’s reputation for accuracy.

Internet Users should be aware that top search results do not necessarily represent the truth, the best, or most reliable company, but the output of a search engine algorithm. 

SEM is utilized by businesses in every industry to get their brand in front of Internet consumers. Edgy Labs performs advanced growth hacking techniques to boost our clients on the web, because this is the world we live in, and those are the rules of the game.

Edgy Labs readers: give us your take.

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Chelle Fuertes

Chelle is the Product Management Lead at INK. She's an experienced SEO professional as well as UX researcher and designer. She enjoys traveling and spending time anywhere near the sea with her family and friends.

Comments (4)
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  1. Dylan Kissane December 09 at 12:12 pm GMT

    Seriously? Do you spend any time on reddit at all, or did you just go with the notion that this is something that supports Trump so it must be bad?

    At least a couple of times a week there’ll be a post on the reddit front page that is something like “If you upvote this image of X it will be the first result for Y on Google’. I’ve seen it done for sports teams, for politicians, and most famously for ComCast. Ever GIS’d Comcast? Where do you think the swastikas come from?

    This isn’t journalism, it’s just pathetic.

    • Alexander De Ridder December 09 at 2:29 pm GMT

      Hi Dylan,

      thank you for your comment!

      You are right that this is not a brand new technique. We make the assertion that r/the_donald performed this technique in a BIGLY way (often multiple times a day for different images), and more importantly, we want to draw attention to this growth hacking technique.

      We’ve updated the article to make this more clear.

      No judgment of Mr. Trump was ever implied in the article. In fact, we reported on the Google autocomplete censorship of news negative to Mrs. Hillary in the same article as well.

      • BK December 09 at 6:00 pm GMT

        Growth Hack? It’s SEO, people have been doing this for years, long before buzzword “growth hack” appeared. Think reputation management and mug shots. It certainly doesn’t take reddit to do it, but by doing so, ranking happens faster.

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