Slate points this afternoon to a post on MyDD from shortly before the midterm election that looks at lefty bloggers’ attempts to googlebomb Republican candidates. What’s a googlebomb? A concerted effort to influence the search ranking of a given web page on a certain topic — in other words, an attempt to pop a page to the top of search engine results.
In this case, bloggers encouraged site owners across the web to link from chosen Republican candidates’ names on their own pages to specified unflattering articles on the web. The goal: to push those articles up the list of results for searches on the targeted candidates (see the section on search engine optimization for more on how search engines work).
The results? Dramatic — 36 of the 52 articles jumped to the first page of search results and in many cases they rose into the top five links. The ethics? Debatable. I take a perverse glee in political dirty tricks, the more cleverer the better, so I should love this stuff. But it does make me slightly nervous — depending on how well it works, googlebombing could become an accepted and normal tactic for influencing the information that’s presented about friends and enemies alike, which goes against the whole idea behind Google and other search engines (that useful and relevant information will naturally rise to the top).
Of course, a successful googlebomb could inherently self-destruct, since the search engine folks do protect their results zealously and could simply intervene to knock a bombed page down the list — by its very nature, the coordination behind a googlebomb is likely to end up being very public and trackable. Let’s keep an eye on this one.