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Attack of the Google bomb


There was a time not long ago when a Google search for “Holocaust” revealed top results indicating that it didn’t happen.

In 1999, a search using the Google search engine for “more evil than Satan himself” would have led to the Microsoft homepage.

Leading up to the Iraq war, an online hunt for “weapons of mass destruction” produced a page resembling a standard internet error page with the message “these Weapons of Mass Destruction cannot be displayed”, offering visitors the option to “click the regime change button”. Or better yet, “If you are George Bush and typed the country’s name in the address bar, make sure that it is spelled correctly (IRAQ)”

Some people may have become familiar with “Google bombing” back in 2005, when a search for “miserable failure” led to George Bush’s bio on the White House website. Secondary results pointed to US President Jimmy Carter and controversial filmmaker Michael Moore. The witty web weapon was in effect through 2007, when the bomb was effectively extinguished by a higher authority (Google changed their algorithim).

Wired UK recently included a small blurb about Google bombing (December 2010) which re-ignited my interest in the phenomenon.

On a basic level, the way it works is that Google’s “web spiders” look for key words in the content and back-end coding of a website, in addition to counting how often a site is linked to using those same keywords. The more people click on those higher search results, the more likely a site is to remain in that top position.

In other words, web developers can team up with their other web developer friends, link to each other using whatever phrase they want and trick Google into putting their site in the top position.

While Google bombs about Microsoft, George Bush and “French military victories” have gained media attention, I find myself wondering what other bombs are hiding out there. Convinced this whole occurrence is really at the end of the day a modern day “revenge of the nerds”, I consider, what a sneaky web developer would want planted in cyber-space.

So this week I embarked on a little investigation with words and phrases like “hot computer geek” and “the man”, and found nothing but the usual Wikipedia, Urban Dictionary and normal porn/e-commerce sites.

While not nearly as exciting as the cyber-sneak attacks on Dubya, I did discover that a Google glance for “snowball” first produces a video of a singing pet presumably with that name.

A search for “smartest person in the world” leads to a site created by an SEO specialist in an attempt to convince his child to listen to him and do his homework. I’m really not the smartest person in the world,” he says, “I just made Google think I am”. At the time of web-publication, the site’s creator had his son convinced of his fame and extreme intelligence. In reality, he is a relatively small-town business owner who knows how to manipulate the web.

It’s a bit funny, but also frightening, that the day has actually come when a young child believes a machine before his own father. Who knows, maybe the next Google bomb will be set off by a child, convincing his (or her) parents that their school doesn’t give homework anymore.  And they might just be the next Mark Zuckerberg.  If not, they can at least convince Google that they are.


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