Abstract: This report examines issues surrounding the high ranking of an anti-semitic website, "JewWatch.com" for searches on the word "Jew". The search results present complex issues of unintended consequences and social dilemmas.
The website "jewwatch.com" describes itself as:
"Keeping a close watch on Jewish communities, organizations, monopoly, banking, and media control worldwide"
The front page contains categories such as "Jewish-Zionist-Soviet Anti-American Spies", "Jewish Communist Rulers & Killers", "Jewish Terrorists", and more. It is unarguably a site devoted to anti-semitic "hate speech". However, such material, though repulsive, is completely protected under the United States Constitution First Amendment, though other countries may consider it illegal.
However, this objectionable site was the first result in a Google search for the word "Jew" .
As reported by ZDNet :
The dispute began several weeks ago, when Steven Weinstock, a New York real estate investor and former yeshiva student, did a Google search on "Jew." ... Weinstock has launched an online petition, asking Google to remove the site from its index. ...
After the controversy had been in the news for some time, Google posted an explanation of the search result:
A site's ranking in Google's search results is automatically determined by computer algorithms using thousands of factors to calculate a page's relevance to a given query. Sometimes subtleties of language cause anomalies to appear that cannot be predicted. A search for "Jew" brings up one such unexpected result.
The explanation was in part aimed at defusing charges that Google was anti-semitic, and had deliberately placed a hate-site in a high search ranking. Such a charge is completely unfounded. But the problem is more closely outlined by the Anti-Defamation League's description :
The longevity of ownership, the way articles are posted to it, the links to and from the site, and the structure of the site itself all increase the ranking of "Jewwatch" within the Google formula.
That is, Google did not in any way promote the hate-site. But there is more to the ranking than "subtleties of language". The Google system was used by the site to promote itself.
When most people think of manipulating Google results, they think of the Google-gaming practice know as Google bombing . Technically, this manipulates Google search results by hyping the ranking factor associated with the words used to link to a site. For example, using miserable failure to link to the page which is a "Biography of President George W. Bush". Or "out of touch executives" to Google Corporate Information.
But the link anchor text is hardly the only factor used by Google. It merely happens to be the easiest to spoof from outside the site. And hence is used to associate a site with keywords it essentially would not want to appear under.
However, Google-bombing (unwanted keywords) is the mirror image of Google-optimization (wanted keywords), where a site seeks to rank highly for desired keywords. In extreme forms, this turns into Google-spamming, where search-engine spammers try to get irrelevant pages to rank highly in order to obtain profit from ad-clicks. This can reach a point of doing significant damage to search results, and has generated some drastic counter-measures (see other reports "Google Spam Filtering Gone Bad" and "Google Bayesian Spam Filtering Problem?" ).
But significant self-promotion can be done short of spamming, and "search engine optimization" is merely puffery, not fraud. Intentionally or unintentionally:
The JewWatch.com site has done search engine optimization for the term "Jew".
This is a much more complex issue than the unsubtle Google-bomb. The factors that Google uses to rank pages have long been a target for financial ends (i.e., Google-spam). But parallel to that, and less deeply examined than it should be, is the potential targeting for political ends. From this perspective, Google-bombing is a crude process, done for laughs, of what might, in the future, become much more serious political dirty-tricks. Indeed, political campaigning is a process of manipulating information, and as search engines become more important as sources of information, we can expect more and varied creative attempts at manipulation.
Remove Jew Watch launched a petition to "get Google.com to remove jewwatch.com from their search engine.". Other people have tried to have different sites rank higher for the term Jew . An ADL director stated :
Jonathan Bernstein, regional director of the Anti-Defamation League, noted that one can stumble across plenty of Holocaust denial Web sites by simply typing "Holocaust" into Google.
"Some responsibility for this needs to rest on our own shoulders and not just a company like Google. We have to prepare our kids for things they come across" on the Internet, he said.
"This is part of the nature of an Internet world. The disadvantage is we see more of it and our kids see more of it. The advantage is, we see more of it, so we're able to respond to it. ... I'm not sure what people would want to see happen. You couldn't really ask Google not to list it."
Google will place sites on certain blacklists if they are illegal. A search for "Jew" in some country-specific Google versions shows Jew Watch removed from Google in Germany and Jew Watch removed from Google in France (compare again Default Google "Jew" search ). See the Localized Google search result exclusions report by Benjamin Edelman and Jonathan Zittrain , which investigated certain web material banned in various countries. and Google Censorship - How It Works by Seth Finkelstein . Google has in the past blacklisted a site which was not illegal, in Chester's Guide to Molesting Google .
But that way lies madness, and Google has sound reasons to duck the issues as much as it can. But it may not have a choice.
Ironically, all the controversy has probably raised the JewWatch.com site rank and relevance within Google's algorithms. For a while, the site lost its service provider and dropped in ranking. But then - very predictably - came back, around April 22. Since then, its status has varied (see updates).
Google ranks popularity, not authority. And popularity is a measure which is vulnerable to many games. Any system of evaluation is subject to manipulation.
Update 1, April 24 (revised): I believed Google had added the front page of the JewWatch.com site, that is, the url http://www.jewwatch.com/, to their internal blacklist . The site itself has not been removed from Google's index. However, I thought the front page of the site will never appear in any Google search. So that front page will be gone when searching for the word "Jew" .
This arose from search for the words: Jew Watch . Ordinarily, the front page of the JewWatch.com site would appear in the top spot. But currently, other site pages appear further down in the search results. And in a wonderful twist of fate, since the site front page has been suppressed, this author's (Seth Finkelstein) writing is in the top spot for that search! ("subtleties of language" can lead to unintended consequences ...).
Update 2, April 24: According to Google, the homepage is empty now, not because of blacklisting, but because the site was down for a time while changing servers.
As relayed by tripias.com "Director of Corporate Communications David Krane replied to my initial email within a matter of hours (actually in the middle of the night on a Friday night, surprisingly), and had this to say:"
"No, Google did not blacklist or make any other manual change to intentionally remove the jewwatch.com website from our index. It does not currently appear in Google's search results because the website was offline for a number of days last week. In our most recent crawl of the web, we were unable to reach the jewwatch.com website, therefore it was not included in our index. Now that the site is back up again, it's likely that at some point soon, jewwatch.com will re-appear in Google."
Danny Sullivan at searchenginewatch.com has a similar update.
Update 3, April 24: Tripias has the scoop that "Jew Watch's New ISP to Stay"
Gary Price, who runs The ResourceShelf , tipped me that the first result for the words Jew Watch is now a JewWatch.com mirror . (easy come, easy go, for that top slot ...).
This is actually extremely interesting from a Google-analysis aspect, as though the page is on an existing Neo-Nazi site, it's a new page. The site, http://www.nazi-lauck-nsdapao.com/, currently proclaims :
"The educational web-site http://www.jewwatch.com is under attack by the enemies of free speech. Free speech activist Gerhard Lauck is trying to help them. An (at least partial) mirror web-site has been established at http://www.jewwatch.info and at http://www.nazi-lauck-nsdapao.com/jew-watch/index.htm
[note: Neo-Nazis apparently have an inferior webmaster-race, since making a full mirror is not difficult these days.]
So, we have the following critical point: The first-place rank of that mirror page for a seach for the words Jew Watch, cannot be caused at the moment by any links. It exists solely because of search engine optimization factors (which do include the freshness of a page).
Update 4, May 4: The site front page (http://www.jewwatch.com/) has returned to being the first result for a search the word "Jew" . Whatever technical reasons which caused it not to appear or rank lower in the past few weeks, have apparently changed. Anti-Semites have also started a Google-bombing campaign in favor of the site's ranking (see http://www.stormfront.org/forum/showthread.php?t=129666)
Version 1.4 May 4 2004
This work was not funded by anyone, and has no connection to any organization. In fact, if anyone is providing financial support for such projects, the author would like to know.
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