From the just plain stupid way that politicos have been trying to game Google or Youtube, it seems that the very area that could benefit the most from the social web (POLITICS) is either too dumb, too corrupt or too oblivious to see the real opportunity.
Google Bombs are nothing new to most of us who spend a good deal of time online. They were first discussed sometime in 2001 if I remember correctly, so they’ve been a presence for five years now. We’ve seen them used in a variety of ways from humor to mean-spirited attacking.
Perhaps the best known Google Bomb of all time was the “miserable failure” meme that passed around the web a few years ago. Did you miss that one? Head over to Google and type in “miserable failure” and hit the “I’m Feeling Lucky” choice. The result is a product of a large amount of links with similiar keywords (in this case, Dubya and the term miserable failure).
Last year, Google Bombing even made it into the dictionary (for those of us silly people who still actually use non-virtual spell checkers).
However, the latest use of Google Bombing as a means to an end raises concern. Admittedly, our political process in the US is highly flawed and the fact that over 2 billion dollars have been spent on “mid-term” elections while 50 million Americans are uninsured. But, Chris Bowers, a contributer to the “liberal” blog MyDD.com has dreamed up a new scheme to target 50 Republican candidates around the country with a campaign of Google Bombs and AdSense buys.
Fifty or so other Republican candidates have also been made targets in a sophisticated “Google bombing” campaign intended to game the search engine’s ranking algorithms. By flooding the Web with references to the candidates and repeatedly cross-linking to specific articles and sites on the Web, it is possible to take advantage of Google’s formula and force those articles to the top of the list of search results.
…Each name is associated with one article. Those articles are embedded in hyperlinks that are now being distributed widely among the left-leaning blogosphere. In an entry at MyDD.com this week, Mr. Bowers said: “When you discuss any of these races in the future, please, use the same embedded hyperlink when reprinting the Republican’s name. Then, I suppose, we will see what happens.”
But then it gets a little murkier…
An accompanying part of the project is intended to buy up Google Adwords, so that searches for the candidates’ names will bring up advertisements that point to the articles as well. But Mr. Bowers said his hopes for this were fading, because he was very busy.
This really troubles me. Not only does the money part of running for political audience make the idea of doing so prohibit the best Americans from entering politics, but these sorts of algorithm gamings simply dilute the political process and what we expect from voters. I’m ashamed that Bowers is doing this in hopes of electing Democrats, because as a Democrat I feel that we have a more optimistic message grounded in transparency and real democratic principles. This sort of short sighted crap is not needed if our message resonates with voters.
Further, this sort of juvenile tactic shows a complete misunderstanding of the potential for using the web in a constructive way for a political campaign. Howard Dean and Ned Lamonte were officially ordained as “blog elected” candidates by the mostly-ignorant large media outlets, but in reality there still has not been a national candidate to make use of the real power of social memetics or web2.0’ish community. John Edwards has been paying a good deal of attention to this area (even appearing at Gnomedex and on Rocketboom), so I hope Edwards will use what he has learned in his presidential candidacy in 2008. If he does, it will be groundbreaking.
Spending billions of dollars on mudslinging and negative messages might have worked before, but that paradigm is rapidly shifting and politicians seem to be the last people to come to terms with that important point.
So, here’s my plea to politicians: Stop trying to game the system and wake up to the constructive possibilities of the web. Do blogging right, make good YouTube videos (good meaning full of heart of real creative expression), construct worthwhile social memes and you just might get elected without contributing to a system already filled with greed, ignorance, violence and stupidity.