April 15, 2004

Wall Street Journal on Google and JewWatch.com

[Update 4/22: New report:

"Jew Watch", Google, and Search Engine Optimization

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 "Jew Watch" and Google controversy was in the Wall Street Journal section OpinionJournal - Best of the Web Today, and I received a link (thanks) - though for my earlier report, on "Chester":

Again, we were initially inclined to accept Google's explanation, but then we noted the New York Times' report that at the request of officials from Chester, England, Google had removed a page called "Chester's guide to molesting young girls" from its search results. Several readers faulted us for not noting part of Google's explanation for that change: that Google had "removed sites from its rankings that promote pedophilia, which is illegal."

This explanation, however, looks to us rather disingenuous. For one thing, although sexual relations with children obviously are illegal, "promoting pedophilia" probably is not. It's also not clear that the offending page--actually titled "Chester's guide to picking up little girls"--really was promoting pedophilia. According to "Chester's Guide to Molesting Google," which now is the first hit on a Google search for "Chester Guide," it was a satire. Having looked at the page, we tend to agree--though the satire is so unspeakably vile, we refuse to link to it.

It turns out, further, that Google has not removed the "Chester's guide" from its search engine altogether; it comes up at the top of a search for the phrase "picking up little girls."

Ah, that last point is notable. When there's a censorship blacklisting, Google doesn't remove material, it removes references (URL's). If the same material appears at a different location, Google will take no action until it receives a specific censorship directive. This is in contrast to search engine spam, which Google tries to remove as much as possible and even pre-emptively.

One thing I've found, is that Google's answers about policy have to be read very carefully and skeptically. It's an interesting combination of malice and stupidity. That is, someone might be trying to deflect you about something they don't really understand in the first place!

By Seth Finkelstein | posted in google | on April 15, 2004 11:59 PM (Infothought permalink) | Followups
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Perhaps I have not been reading your work long enough to grasp the depths of Google's sleights, but *malice* is a word that must be used with care.

As it seems impossible Google would act with malice (for instance, game the system so Jew Watch was *promoted*), I suspect you and others bring malice into the equation.

Google and stupidity go well together, but bringing malice into the fray seems a JDL impulse. Which begs the question, are you intellectually honest when dealing with issues that intersect with Jewish activism?

Do you treat the Chester and Jew Watch issues with the same intellectual and ethical rigor. Does that matter to you?

Of course, we might disagree on the meaning of "is", which is to say, I can see where a delight with word play would perceive the combination of malice and stupidity as interesting. But the statement has a meaning, and without some kind of proof, it seeps through the bounds of rhetoric and collects as a pool of slander.

"Deflect" appears inconsistent with malice, so perhaps this is sloppiness and not intent. In a previous thread, though, you compared being goaded into a flame-fest with answering the taunts of a black-hooded executioner. You need to be more diligent when editing your work. It is not about self-censorship, it's about communicating better.

The text you added to this post was not extensive, and while your time is valuable, a gamut check is always in order.

Posted by: sean broderick at April 17, 2004 08:58 AM

What I was trying to express is that there's elements of both ill-will and ignorance. There's "stupidity" (more precisely, ignorance), in that Google is a complex system and very few people really understand what is happening to produce a given result. But there is also "malice" (more precisely, a kind of PR flackery), in that even if they did understand it exactly, they sure don't want to give out the information, they want people to just go away.

I DID NOT mean to imply Google promoted the "Jew Watch" site. By no means! I was referring to their general attitude of circle-the-wagons whenever dealing with a controversy.

Posted by: Seth Finkelstein at April 18, 2004 12:39 AM