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'Google bombs': Graffiti or activism?
Sacramento Bee


October 05, 2005

In the world of blogs, what's old is new again.

To wit: the re-emergence of Google bombs, a snarky diversion exclusive to the Internet.

They've been around for several years, an inside-baseball novelty for savvy Web users and political insiders.

With the advent of free blogging sites and such hot-button issues as the Iraq war and Hurricane Katrina contributing to sharply divided public opinion, hundreds of average Joes and Janes are jumping into the online fray.

Originally a prank between two friends, Google bombs have become mostly political in nature, a way to make a statement in a subversive way.

The instructions come in an e-mail, or a conspiratorial whisper from a co-worker in the next cubicle.

Go to, type the term "miserable failure" in the search field, and see what pops up when you click on the "Google Search" button.

The top result? A link to the official White House biography of President George W. Bush.

Or type in "failure" and click on "I'm Feeling Lucky" instead, and you're taken directly to the page, where a smiling Bush greets you.

He's been Google bombed.

Michael Moore, Hillary Rodham Clinton and Jimmy Carter also have been victims of the high-tech prank, with their Web pages popping up in the top 10 results from time to time. But left-leaning bloggers have succeeded in keeping Bush in the top slot for two years and counting.

How? By exploiting a loophole in Google's algorithm.

Search engines like Google rely heavily on how people link to other sites, said Danny Sullivan, who founded

If anybody with a Web site uses a specific phrase like "miserable failure" to link to a certain Web page, search engines like Google and Yahoo! will point users to that page.

"If enough people are doing that, it can cause search engines to think that's what the page must be about," he said.

Some liken Google bombs to political activism, while others see it as harmless (and funny) cybergraffiti.

Clifford Tatum, a doctoral candidate at the University of Washington, published a study of Google bombs on First Monday, a peer-reviewed Internet journal.

The study concluded that the Bush Google bombs qualify as symbolic, if not legitimate, social movement, by expressing widespread dissatisfaction with his performance.

Jeff Fulmer, a Pennsylvania writer who has a "worst president ever" Google bomb linked to Bush's biography page on his blog - - thinks it should be taken with a grain of salt.

"Google bombs offer a chance to game the system while they provide the smug satisfaction one feels when they unleash a zinger," he said. "This can hardly be classified as genuine political activism. I'm just tossing spitballs from the back of the room."

Left-leaning bloggers like Fulmer have taken to Google bombing with zeal. Right-leaning bloggers say that's no coincidence.

"Our side doesn't do stuff like this," said John Hinderaker, whose is one of the most popular conservative blogs.

Hinderaker, a Minneapolis lawyer, said he had never heard of Google bombing, much less participated in it.

"These liberals have way too much time on their hands," he said.


Distributed by Scripps Howard News Service,

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