(CNN) -- For most of the past week, when someone typed "Michelle Obama" in the popular search engine Google, one of the first images that came up was a picture of the American first lady altered to resemble a monkey.
On Wednesday morning, the racially offensive image appeared to have been removed from any Google Image searches for "Michelle Obama."
Google officials could not immediately be reached for comment.
The California-based company then explained that search results rely on computer algorithms that take into account thousands of factors.
"The beliefs and preferences of those who work at Google, as well as the opinions of the general public, do not determine or impact our search results," it said.
The company said that the integrity of its search results is extremely important.
"Accordingly, we do not remove a page from our search results simply because its content is unpopular or because we receive complaints concerning it."
A user alerted Google to the picture via an online help forum two weeks ago.
The altered image can be found here, although clicking on this link will take users to a photo that many will find offensive.
The Internet was abuzz Tuesday and Wednesday with reaction to the image. Some online users demanded that the photo be blocked, while others said it should remain on free speech grounds.
"There is no way to defend this heinous incident," said a Twitter user who gave his name as Alheli Picazo of Calgary, Canada. "People often claim their right to free speech to mask blatant racism and insulting bigotry and always seem to get away with it," he told CNN via e-mail. "When it comes to issues of discrimination, hiding behind free speech just doesn't cut it."
A Twitter user who gave his name as Jerry Wright of Hoboken, New Jersey, disagreed.
"I am absolutely disgusted by this picture, but the Internet has thousands and thousands of offensive images. Should Google get rid of all of them? Where do you draw the line," he asked CNN via e-mail.
In 2004, Google posted a similar note of apology when a search for "Jew" pulled up anti-Semitic sites as top results. [...]
I followed the link to the image, and from there, to the site that posted it. The person who posted it there said said:
WTF IS THIS? MICHELLE OBAMA AS AN APE HUH?
[...] ***Ed. Note***
Over the last few months, we’ve received a LOT of feedback from readers regarding this picture. And I wanted to be clear on a few things.
We DID NOT generate this photo. It was seen on another site (www.Celerbtityapes.com) and as with all of our other posts, we reported on it.
We will NOT be removing this picture because this is a story, and it our policy NOT to remove stories based on anything but editorial error. If you choose to visit the source site, you will see that this picture WAS NOT created out of racially motivated ignorance. Had that have been the case, as a journalist, an American and most importantly, a Black woman, I would have NEVER posted it.
I appreacite your feedback. Thank you.
I agree with the editor. People can have whatever opinions they like about it, and express them too, but there in no reason to remove it. Free speech is about free speech, not preserving people's comfort zones.
There is no right to "not be offended". I see things every day that offend me. I don't expect the world to conform to me; that's completely unrealistic. Duh.
How many altered pictures of Laura Bush have I seen, obscene, pornographic, vulgar and hateful? Too many to count. I've developed a great technique for dealing with such rubbish; I ignore it! Fortunately it's a wonderful, easy to lean technique that can be mastered by anyone.
Who gets to decide what is acceptable and what isn't? In a free society, WE do, each one of us, for ourselves. I wouldn't have it any other way. And I'm offended by anyone who thinks they have the right to decide for me what is acceptable!