Tuesday, January 27, 2009

The Latest Presidential Googlebomb...

The more things change, the more they stay the same. Hacktivists on both sides of the political aisle have apparently just launched fresh "Googlebombs" directed at the new president.

Googlebombing is not a new phenomenon. It refers to computer hackers using their knowledge of Google's algorithm to manipulate search results. Two years ago, hacktivists threw a Googlebomb that made it so that when somebody searched for the phrase "miserable failure" a biography of President Bush appeared first in the list of search results.

Now, two new Googlebombs have been launched. Supporters of President Obama have made it so that he sits atop the search results for "cheerful achievement". Meanwhile, his opponents have done the same for searches for "failure".

Google's own Public Policy Blog explains that the company has devised an algorithm designed to detect Googlebombs and correct their corresponding effects. However, they only run this algorithm once in a blue moon "because it takes some computing power to process our entire web index and because true Googlebombs are quite rare". The fix is now in place, as President Obama's site is no longer appearing early in the search results for those terms, but apparently Yahoo still hasn't rectified the problem for "miserable failure".

Further compounding the problem, all of the search engines last week appeared to have quite a time lag after the new president took office. Just because of the automated manner by which Google and the others are programmed to operate, Bush was still recognized as president for a significant amount of time after Obama took his oath of office.

Additionally, many of the "miserable failure" links were simply "redirects" - originally aimed at George W. Bush, but, once Obama became president, were simply redirected towards him.

What a mess! Hacktivists may have thrown the original Googlebomb as either a type of prank or as a form of political activism, depending how you choose to perceive it, but what has transpired since has demonstrated the failings and limitations of the search engine world.

Considering that 90% of internet users regularly use search engines (and who the other 10% are that don't is a giant mystery to me), the fact that those major search engines can be so easily manipulated, and that the companies behind them are so limited or lethargic in their responses to that manipulation, should be a major cause of concern to everyone.


At 11:00 AM, Blogger Amy said...

Intestesting. I've never even heard of a Googlebomb. It's kind of awesome in a way. But bad of course and should not be allowed to happen. Unless it's just too hysterically funny.

And who are those other 10%?!?

At 11:08 AM, Blogger Robert J. Domanski said...

Yes, Amy, I also find Googlebombs a fascinating development. Hacktivists were using them a lot during the presidential campaign last year (Ron Paul, for a time, even had higher search results than Obama, McCain, or Hillary). And I also agree that they're both funny and potentially dangerous, particularly when they're targeted at "regular people".


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