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The Algorithm Can Fail Us

March 5, 2013

Google bombing is the act of enhancing a website’s search engine optimization (SEO)—or raising its page ranking—by repeatedly inputting a keyword associated with the website’s destination. While there are special types of SEO software that are designed to raise a website’s page rank, Google bombing often involves massive or viral participation rather than any software. Many of the recent Google Bombs have very clear roots in Reddit or 4Chan forums. The first Google Bomb was in 1999, where the search term “more evil than Satan himself” returned Microsoft as the top result. A more recent example was made popular during Rick Santorum’s presidential run in 2012, when the first search result for Santorum defined it as “the frothy mixture of lube and fecal matter that is sometimes the byproduct of anal sex.” This Google Bomb was spearheaded by Dan Savage, a columnist, to protest anti-gay remarks Santorum made in the early 2000s by forever associating the then-U.S. Senator with this disgusting, reader-chosen definition. During his presidential bid, Santorum formally requested that Google remove the definition from its search index. Google refused.

There are MANY more Google Bombs out there; these Google Bombs begin as a bored forumer’s prank and becomes reality. I do not support Rick Santorum and I do not condone Dan Savage’s Google Bomb; but before Dan Savage’s Google Bomb, Santorum had no definition. That definition was not a fact. It served as nothing more than a mildly amusing and mildly insulting joke, an interesting joke. That interest that people showed this joke is what caused it to become fact—by cementing the definition in Google’s search results and giving it a permanent place in internet culture.

Did Dan Savage’s actions serve a purpose? Yes, protesting bad behavior serves an important role in our country. However Google is not a medium for protesting. Google is a medium for delivering facts and information, whose purpose is not aided by these random associations. While individual instances of Google Bombing like Santorum, Microsoft, Justin Beiber’s syphilis, George Bush’s miserable failure, Mitt Romney’s completely wrong, or Creed’s worst band in the world can be seen as jokes, they denote a serious failure on Google’s part. People are outsmarting the algorithm; and Google as well—since Google has tried to and can’t seem to fix the problem.

Dan Savage’s Google Bomb may have had a noble purpose, but 4Chan seems to prefer pranks to noble causes and is far more active and successful in their exploits. Google’s algorithm has a long way to go if it hopes to beat pranksters’ crowdsourcing SEO exploits to bomb its search results.

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