Google Bombs
March 20, 2002 4:55 PM   Subscribe

After a few good natured google bombs surfaced on weblogs in the past month or so, a recent meme to get an anti-scientology site higher in the rankings for "scientology" searches at Google has reportedly resulted in the removal of all links to Operation Clambake from Google. Has Google overstepped its bounds or did participating weblogs go too far?
posted by mathowie (39 comments total)
How can we trust google is representing the views of the masses it it's going to do things like this?

Or, more worryingly, is Google influenced by scientology heavyweights?
posted by Neale at 5:16 PM on March 20, 2002

Google hasn't removed Operation Clambake from all of its search results: you can still search on "scientology xenu" or "scientology clambake" and get links to it. Searching on just "scientology", however, won't return any links to it.
posted by monosyllabic at 5:17 PM on March 20, 2002

It's also right there in the directory, under "opposing views".
posted by MarkO at 5:18 PM on March 20, 2002

OK, if I google Hare Krishna I get "pro" hare krishna sites for the first few pages. If I google Judaism I get "pro" judaism sites in the first few pages. If I google, aw hell, you get the picture. I understand the opinion (which I actually share) that Scientology is a cult. But if I google something, I expect to get information about that topic, generally by proponents of that topic (and get to opponents after a few pages). I mean, if I google scientology bad, I get page after page of anti-scientology sites interspersed with a few pro-anti-scientology sites. IMO, participating weblogs went too far.
posted by dchase at 5:28 PM on March 20, 2002

Wonder why no one bought any ads on the keyword "scientology".
posted by smackfu at 5:29 PM on March 20, 2002

Has Google overstepped its bounds ...?

What bounds? They own the search engine that folks are abusing.
posted by Shadowkeeper at 5:40 PM on March 20, 2002

Google claims its search technology works a certain way. If in fact some search results are not determined the way they say they are, yes, that would be problematic -- it would certainly be a betrayal of the user.

But it's within Google's rights to adjust their technology any way they think is best for their business, I would think, so long as they say what they're doing and don't deceive their users. And if it is in fact possible to manipulate their search results, then it's obviously a good idea for Google to try and counter (or at least reduce the effects of) that manipulation somehow.
posted by mattpfeff at 5:55 PM on March 20, 2002

But it's within Google's rights to adjust their technology any way they think is best for their business, I would think, so long as they say what they're doing and don't deceive their users. And if it is in fact possible to manipulate their search results, then it's obviously a good idea for Google to try and counter (or at least reduce the effects of) that manipulation somehow.

Also, Scientology is notoriously litigious with regards to people badmouthing them, so I wouldn't be surprised if there was legal action threatened behind the scenes somewhere.
posted by zempf at 6:02 PM on March 20, 2002

What right does have to get its message out, anyway? If they really have something to say, they should just buy their own media empire...

Ho ho, but seriously. Scientology has been quite successful in google bombing itself for its own purposes (google bombing seems a poor term for this self-promotion, though; autoerotic googling, perhaps?). Bloggers were doing nothing more than counteracting this google bomb with a diametrically opposed google bomb- insert M.A.D. jokes here- so I don't think the blogger meme was unethical to begin with.

My 'media empire' crack above had a point; Google's popularity was rooted not only its thoroughness, but its seemingly hands-off, unbiased, unfiltered results: it has always been seen as one of the more 'pure' search engines, one that isn't a front for corporate/marketing interests or otherwise interfering with the free flow of information. This kind of ham-handed censoring of results only blemishes Google's reputation, and is very hard to explain- did CoS put pressure on Google? It seems likely, but why would Google bend- I should think even a first-year lawyer should be able to rebuff CoS on any libel or defamation claims against the search engine itself.

This isn't the first instance of google bombing, and it won't be the last- nothing short of constant Yahoo! like monitoring of their linking/caching, or the removal of the very page-rank technology that makes Google flow, could prevent future Google bombing.
posted by hincandenza at 6:27 PM on March 20, 2002

But it's within Google's rights to adjust their technology any way they think is best for their business, I would think, so long as they say what they're doing and don't deceive their users.

Well, they have done it, and I'm aware of no current or previous press release to the millions who use Google about this decision. Heck, they didn't even update the Google logo by cleverly inserting a photo of L. Ron Hubbard.

This is precisely why journalistic integrity, and an earned reputation for such, is so critical (and in a roundabout way, that's what we're talking about here; google killing access to a link for 'business reasons' is like an editor killing a perfectly valid story because of 'business concerns'). You can't very well expect people to live in a constant state of paranoiac vigilance and wonder just when the sources they've trusted for objective information have finally been corrupted. When I open a newspaper, I want to be able to trust that the paper isn't just making stuff up, without me having to actually do my own investigative reporting; when I search on google I want to be able to trust that Google isn't hiding search results that are deemed by a cadre of CoS lawyers as unsuitable for me to view.
posted by hincandenza at 6:38 PM on March 20, 2002

autoerotic googling

posted by rodii at 7:12 PM on March 20, 2002

This simply isn't true. Searching on "scientology" alone, you strike the first anti- sites by result page 2, with this: Operation Clambake is linked on result page 9. The anti- sites start to outnumber the pro ones by about page 4.

I wouldn't call Rotten the most... authoritative site on the net.

Where did Clambake used to come, before knowledge of Google-bombing became widespread?
posted by i_am_joe's_spleen at 7:21 PM on March 20, 2002


posted by nikzhowz at 7:22 PM on March 20, 2002

That's: result page 9. At least my reports are verifiable...

posted by i_am_joe's_spleen at 7:25 PM on March 20, 2002

A google search on "religious zealots" ranks the official web page of the Christian Coalition of America at the top of the list.
posted by wfrgms at 7:56 PM on March 20, 2002

I'm rather ok with Google doing this.

It all gets back to that, "if you let one, then the others will follow" rule. Imagine if they allowed this to happen, then the porn sites get together and decide to googlebomb common words such as "tire" up in the rankings. Someone using Google for information on the best tires could then perceivably get page after page of porn sites first off.

I enjoy being able to use Google for information on what I'm actually looking for. They did right by me.
posted by digital_insomnia at 7:58 PM on March 20, 2002

google should remain an engine. disinterested, not a filter. besides, haven't googlebated results always been temporary at best? hands off is what i say.
posted by Dean King at 8:05 PM on March 20, 2002

Seems like another case of "sauce for the goose" to me. First, there was Cult Awareness Network. Then, that site was taken and actually operated by the Scientologists. Here's a representative link, sorry its an AOL page, I couldn't find anything better quickly. Perhaps Google is also tweaking its search results for "Cult Awareness Network"?

Next, came and all the others; google-whatevering their results was functionally no different from CoS' usurping of the CAN identity - each was a ploy designed to steer persons searching for one type of information to another type.
posted by yhbc at 8:17 PM on March 20, 2002

A search on "operation clambake scientology xenu baloney" just now brings a decidedly anti-Scientology set of results, with itself being #4.
posted by aaron at 8:34 PM on March 20, 2002

"How can we trust google is representing the views of the masses it it's going to do things like this?"

How can you trust them to give *accurate* search results if they don't?
posted by paddy at 8:37 PM on March 20, 2002

posted by five fresh fish at 9:11 PM on March 20, 2002

All this googlebation will inevitably lead to premature ejacgoogleation.
posted by jonmc at 9:28 PM on March 20, 2002

In other news, the googlewhack mathowie and waxy are trying in the sidebar returns no results.

Google is on to you monkeys. Hide.
posted by raaka at 9:43 PM on March 20, 2002

the googlewhack mathowie and waxy are trying in the sidebar returns no results

That's probably because the result (when there was one) was the main page -- and one or both of the search terms in question have probably slid off in the version of the page that Google is now working off.
posted by mattpfeff at 9:49 PM on March 20, 2002

Also: The Operation Clambake news page now includes the following:

A representative from later writes to inform that they have received a Digital Millenium Copyright Act (DMCA) complaint from Religious Technology Center and Bridge Publications (quote from the e-mail and the pages listed in the complaint)

posted by mattpfeff at 11:07 PM on March 20, 2002

Correct second link from above
posted by Nothing at 12:20 AM on March 21, 2002

A comparison:

result on "scientology cult" at google, which has pages' worth of anti-scientology links before a single pro-scientology one. Heck, I'm on the 7th page, and have yet to find a pro-scientology link.

result on searching "scientology cult" at a site where one can pay for search results. The first, paid result, at 10 cents per result, is a statement from L. Ron Hubbard bashing psychiatrists for labelling scientology a cult. Why did he stop there? According to google, it's far more than the field of psychiatry characterizing it as a cult. As well, the first unpaid result is Scientology's official website.
posted by meep at 3:09 AM on March 21, 2002

I have a disagreement with the notion that search queries should return results with positive connotations, or "pro" as I believe dchase suggested. Filtering results based on these grounds prove to be unfair for those with a dissenting opinion. If I searched for "drugs", I don't automatically expect my results to be "pro" drugs - I would, and should, get resulting sites with both pros and cons -based on relavence and popularity. Of course, if I just wanted pros or cons, I could simply search based on those criteria, but I think the broader topic should include both - even if that term is a trademark, or business name.
posted by designflea at 6:31 AM on March 21, 2002

Bad google. Bad DMCA. Bad Scientologists. Don't ever do it again.
posted by walrus at 6:54 AM on March 21, 2002

Googlebombing, while usually harmless and relatively stupid, is only a problem when it begins to seriously skew search results. Attempting to skew the results in favor of anti-Scientology websites is wrong, and Google is well within their rights to address this problem, if doing so will more accurately reflect what's out there on the web. But, at the same time, shouldn't they also address Scientology's own (rather successful) attempts at googlebombing? A quick whois search reveals that all but a few of the links at the top of a "scientology" search at Google are websites not just pro-Scientology but actually owned by the church. Does that accuraretly reflect the web, the information people want, and the information to which they link? Can Operation Clambake and others truly be blamed for fighting googlebombing with googlebombing? If Google intends to police one abuse, shouldn't they police them all?

A search Church of Scientology fares much better, thankfully, and feels much more accurate.
posted by UnReality at 7:22 AM on March 21, 2002

I see a big difference between

1. a bunch of independent webloggers all deciding Operation Clambake is the most informative Scientology site, and all linking to it, and

2. the Church of Scientology as an organization trying to use a network of sites to boost their own search engine rankings.

Number 1 is the sort of peer-review of sites that Google is supposed to use. It's not a perversion of Google's system, it is Google's system.
posted by straight at 8:18 AM on March 21, 2002

Precisely. If they want to stop the bombing, they should do something similar to teoma. Otherwise, please let us all get on with using an engine whos behaviour is predictable, rather than turning over to have your tummy tickled as soon as someone whispers DMCA. Bad, bad google.
posted by walrus at 8:56 AM on March 21, 2002

I wonder what Cory would say.
posted by piskycritters at 1:34 PM on March 21, 2002

There's a good article on the whole mess at Microcontent News.

But have any of you tried a search on just the word scientology today? Yeah, it's still heavily weighted to CoS puppet sites, with only a few opposing voices in the second and third pages. It would be wonderful to see Google move against this kind of crap.

However, at the top of the scientology search results you'll find a news link to a CNet story headlined "Google pulls anti-Scientology links", which links to in its first paragraph. So does the DMCA pull out the heavy artillery if you cache and/or link to a page that links to a site that has a pile of Scientologist copyrighted material?
posted by maudlin at 2:23 PM on March 21, 2002

hey piskycritters, see boingboing to see what cory says.
posted by centrs at 4:22 PM on March 21, 2002

Thanks, centrs. Great idea over there at boingboing. Imagine if more people did it.
posted by pmurray63 at 5:21 PM on March 21, 2002

And now Google has returned the home page of to their database, although all thse subsidiary pages may still be omitted. (As the home page contains no copyrighted CoS material, they can't protest it). Search scientology and Operation Clambake is 4th in the list. At the top of the page, in addition to the directory listings pro and con CoS, is a link to this news story about the switch.

Better yet, note the sponsored links at the side.

This was a definite mistake on Google's part: they didn't have to yank all the sites immediately, and they didn't have to pull the home page at all. I hope they stay the course from now on.
posted by maudlin at 10:55 PM on March 21, 2002


A Google search is an easy, honest and objective way to find high-quality websites with information relevant to your search.

That's why I use it, and that's why I hope they fight the scientologists and win.
posted by syzygy at 2:38 AM on March 22, 2002

If you look at, they show a chart of network activity. If the CoS wanted to prevent people from seeing that page, they failed. Traffic was up something like 5 times over regular on one server.

And also, i_am_joe's_spleen, deserves more credit than that. They are arguably the most authoritative site on the internet, because their mission, at least in part, is to publish information which nobody else will publish, and publicise information that the public is denied. That they have a sense of humour, and actually succeed in providing you an unpleasant experience, does not detract from their authority as a mini-news-relay. It isn't like they're *hiding* anything.

Furthermore, traffic wise they are ranked just *above* the New York Times. As much as that makes sense it is still hard to believe.
posted by Settle at 3:10 PM on March 22, 2002

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