Monday, June 23, 2008

Hacktivist Throws 'Google Bomb' at John McCain...

This presidential election campaign has already seen its fair share of online innovations. Well, that's one trend that shows no signs of slowing down. As Computerworld reports, one political blogger is using a technique known as "Google bombing" to undermine the candidacy of Republican presidential candidate John McCain.

The way a Google bomb works is by manipulating Google's search algorithm. When somebody searches for the term "John McCain", the results are listed a certain order - which is based on, among other things, how many websites link to that specific page. In other words, the more websites that link to John McCain's homepage, the more likely that homepage is to be listed first in Google's results. This is always how Google's search results have worked, and we've come to love it enough to make it, hands-down, the top search engine on the Web.

However, some hacktivists try to use Google's ranking system to their own advantage, as is the case here. The way to do so is quite simple... get enough websites to link to a negative story about John McCain, and that negative story will eventually be among the first ones listed when someone searches for him.

Chris Bowers, managing editor of the progressive blog OpenLeft, is launching the Google bombs by encouraging bloggers to embed Web links to the nine news stories about McCain in their blogs... Bowers is reprising a similar Google bombing effort he undertook in 2006 against 52 different congressional candidates.

The articles Bowers is using range from a story about McCain voting to filibuster a minimum wage hike to an item about the Senate passing an expanded GI bill despite opposition from McCain... Bowers is aiming by Labor Day to have three of the nine articles appear in the top 10 search results for "John McCain" and "McCain," three in results 11 through 20 and three more in 21 through 30.

Google-bombing may be a subversive political activity, as it clearly tries to game the system in ways for which the system was never intended, particularly when it focuses on negative content. But yet it is also not in any way illegal.

So the question relating to hacktivism is whether Google-bombing is an activity that degrades our democratic system... or is it just clever politics?


At 11:47 AM, Blogger Rhea said...

I think it's clever. Google results are not purported to be journalism or statistically meaningful. So, why not?

At 11:53 AM, Blogger Robert J. Domanski said...

Clever, it is, Rhea. But in the bigger picture of things, is it a positive or negative development?

To put this question in perspective, should I be discouraging my political science students from engaging in such subversive activities, or encouraging them simply because it is at least some form of civic engagement?


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