Foes of Bush Enlist Google in Group Prank
By SAUL HANSELL, The New York Times
Earlier this year, Google started a widely used news service. Last week, it looked to some users of the Google search that the site had started to editorialize.
Anyone searching on Google for the phrase "miserable failure" was sent to the official White House biography of President Bush.
Google executives say they have no corporate opinion of the Bush presidency. Instead, the episode is another example of a form of cyber-graffiti known as "Google bombing."
It is a group prank. If enough Web pages link a certain Web page to a phrase, the Google search engine will start to associate that page with the phrase - even if, as in the case of Mr. Bush's official biography, the phrase does not occur on the destination Web site.
Beginning a few months ago, for example, the No. 1 search result on Google for the term "weapons of mass destruction" has been a satiric Web page made to look like a Microsoft error message.
Inspired by this and stirred by his objections to Mr. Bush's policies, a computer programmer, George Johnston, created a Google bomb to tie Mr. Bush's official biography to the phrase "miserable failure," watchwords of the presidential campaign of Richard A. Gephardt. (Mr. Johnston, who lives in Bellevue, Wash., said he had no association with the Gephardt campaign and in fact preferred another Democratic candidate, Dennis J. Kucinich.)
In the middle of October, Mr. Johnston created links on his blog (oldfashionedpatriot.blogspot.com) tying the phrase to the Bush biography and began to send messages to the writers of other blogs with an anti-Bush tilt telling them of his project. Many not only added the catch phrase to their own sites but urged readers to do the same.
Craig Silverstein, Google's director for technology, says the company sees nothing wrong with the public using its search engine this way. No user is hurt, he said, because there is no clearly legitimate site for "miserable failure" being pushed aside.
Moreover, he said, Google's results were taking stock of the range of opinions that are expressed online. "We just reflect the opinion on the Web,'' he said, "for better or worse."
Copyright © 2003 The New York Times Company.