Friday, October 27, 2006

Liberals Throw Google 'Bombs' at GOP

t's called the "Google bomb" and liberals are using it to attack 50 Republican candidates they have targeted for defeat in the Nov. 7 elections.

Using complicated computer programs, the Google bombers are able to direct Web searchers to selected articles about specific GOP members of Congress meant to disparage them.

In examples cited by The New York Times, anyone using the Google search engine for information about Arizona Republican Sen. Jon Kyl will be directed to an April 13 article from The Phoenix New Times, an alternative weekly which says that Kyl "has spent his time in Washington kowtowing to the Bush administration and the radical right, very often to the detriment of Arizonans.”

A Googler looking for information about "Peter King,” the Republican congressman from Long Island, would bring up a link to a Newsday article headlined "King Endorses Ethnic Profiling.”

The Google bomb ploy is the brainchild of Chris Bowers, a contributor at (Direct Democracy), a far-left group blog. He told the Times that the articles chosen "Had to come from news sources that would be widely trusted in the given district. We wanted actual news reports so it would be clear that we weren’t making anything up.”

The tactic works by flooding the Web with references to the candidates and repeatedly cross-linking to specific articles and sites on the Web, making it possible to take advantage of Google’s formula and force those negative articles to the top of the list of search results.

It has long been used by Web sites seeking to advance their rankings by attracting more viewers to their sites.

Bowers explained that his project was originally aimed at 70 Republican candidates but was scaled back to roughly 50 because Bowers thought some of the negative articles were too partisan.

According to the Times, each name targeted is associated with just one article, which is embedded in hyperlinks that are now being distributed widely among the left-leaning blogosphere. In an entry at this week, the Times quotes Bowers as saying "When you discuss any of these races in the future, please, use the same embedded hyperlink when reprinting the Republican’s name. Then, I suppose, we will see what happens.”

The tactic is not really new. The Times recalled that the ability to manipulate the Google search engine’s results has been demonstrated in the past. Searching for "miserable failure,” for example, produces the official White House Web site of President Bush.

"We don’t condone the practice of Google bombing, or any other action that seeks to affect the integrity of our search results,” Ricardo Reyes, a Google spokesman told the Times. "A site’s ranking in Google’s search results is automatically determined by computer algorithms using thousands of factors to calculate a page’s relevance to a given query.”

Google, however, says it won't interfere with anyone using Bower's tactic, telling the Times that Google's faith in its system has produced a hands-off policy when it comes to correcting for the effects of Google bombs in the past. Over all, Google says, the integrity of the search product remains intact.

Writing in the company’s blog last year, Marissa Mayer, Google’s director of consumer Web products, suggested that pranks might be "distracting to some, but they don’t affect the overall quality of our search service, whose objectivity, as always, remains the core of our mission.”

Still, some conservative blogs have condemned Bowers’s tactic. These include "Outside the Beltway," which has called him "unscrupulous,” and "Hot Air," which called it "fascinatingly evil.”

Bowers tells the Times that despite the obvious intention to damage the re-election chances of his targets, he does not believe the practice would actually deceive most Internet users.

"I think Internet users are very smart and most are aware of what a Google bomb is,” he said, "and they will be aware that results can be massaged a bit.”