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Googlebombing the Midterms

The November 12 New York Times noted that a familiar Internet prank  had been elevated during the recent congressional midterm elections to a campaign tool. The Times called it “loaded links,” but more typically the technique is called Googlebombing. The idea is to get lots of Web sites to use the same ”anchor text” (i.e., the text you actually see in hyperlinks) to link to a particular Web page. Because of the peculiarities of Google’s search algorithms, this raises the Google ranking of that Web page much higher than would otherwise be the case. The campaign application is obvious: create a pattern of links that will offer up negative commentary about a particular candidate to Google users. This variety of Googlebombing appears to be the first campaign dirty trick (practitioners prefer the term “netroots citizen activism”) in many a year to be pioneered by Democrats.

Two weeks before the election, Chris Bowers, a blogger on the left-leaning Web site, conducted a small experiment called “the Google Bomb Project” that recruited other liberal bloggers and got impressive results, driving selected negative links to the first page of Google search results for more than half of the Republican congressional candidates. A volunteer named Lucas O’Conner posted the response you see below detailing the remarkable outcome (36 candidate “bombs” appeared on the first search results page after only one week) and pondering what it may augur for future elections. O’Conner also examined the project’s “efficacy, morality, and general point,” which he defended on the grounds that the press isn’t doing enough impartial analytical reporting. As Fox News might say: We manipulate algorithms, you decide.