Watching a story, part I

There’s been some claims about “Google funding pro-terrorist groups.” Normally with a story as controversial as this, I’d expect the allegation to get written up quite a bit. But that didn’t happen. Let’s dissect the spread of this story a little bit.

The first phase of the story was fascinating because other than Loren Baker, pretty much the only write-ups the first night were from WebmasterRadio (WMR) hosts:
- Shoemoney wrote a short post entitled “Accusations Of Google Funding Terrorism.” Shoemoney hosts a WMR show called Net Income.
- Greg Boser wrote a post called “Google Funding Terrorism?”. Greg co-hosts a WMR show called SEO Rockstars.
- Threadwatch started a discussion called “Is Google Funding Al Qaeda & Hezbollah Terrorist Groups”. Threadwatch is co-owned by David Naylor, who co-hosts the Strikepoint show on WebmasterRadio.

And then nobody else picked this story up for a while. Danny Sullivan, who is also a WebmasterRadio personality, didn’t blog about it. I also saw weird signals from WebmasterRadio itself. Jim Hedger posted an interview to kick off his series at http://www.webmasterradio.fm/breakingstory.php and that page begins with “WebmasterRadio.FM investigative journalist Jim Hedger hosts this exclusive WebmasterRadio.FM series on the implications of click fraud on the industry and on national and global security.” So WebmasterRadio says on their own pages that Jim Hedger is an investigative journalist for them. But then on the ThreadWatch discussion, Daron Babin, the CEO of WebmasterRadio, stated “I want to be clear that WebmasterRadio.FM is not accusing anyone of anything. We were handed a lot of documentation as a 3rd party trusted resource to help figure this problem out…” I was thinking: so is WebmasterRadio behind this report or not?

When other people did start to talk about this, much of the posts were skeptical or negative. Jim Hedger evidently asked ClickTracks and Enquisite to look for evidence of click fraud and to attend the press conference. The write-up from Enquisite was remarkably noncommittal:

About a week or two earlier Enquisite had received log files from ait.com, and been asked to process them. All I knew was there was suspected click fraud, and having filed some patent claims in the area, I knew it was of interest to us. …. I was asked if I confirm a variety of statements which related to the various statements / facts already gathered. I responded no – I only could comment on one; I’ve looked at the log file data which was provided to us, and processed it using Enquisite, with PPC tracking enabled. I don’t know if it’s click fraud or not. …. Until the radio show, I didn’t know most of the details about the information Jim presented. ….

Not a ringing endorsement from the third party brought in to check the data.

Shoemoney did another post entitled ” Be Careful With Journalists – Google Accused of funding Terrorists Part 2.” He said “The sad part of this story (so far) is all the journalist want is me on record saying that Google is funding terrorism or some crap like that. They don’t even care about the click fraud case really they just hear Google funding terrorists and they taste blood.” The first commenter replied:

Jeremy,

Reporters are probably calling you asking about Google funding Terrorism because of your blog post entitled, “Accusations Of Google Funding Terrorism.”

Another blogger waded into the story saying “Why does Jim from Webmaster Radio have contacts inside the Iraqi insurgency? Why aren’t these “contacts” being named and turned over to the government?” and concludes with “methinks I smell a hit piece.”

One blackhat SEO said “So for those of you that haven’t figured it out, the whole “funding terrorist” thing is total bullshit. If you buy into it, you’re a fucktard. …. So the next time someone says that pot, poker, Google, or Porn is being used to fund terrorism, knee them in the groin, sweep their legs out and start kicking them in the head until they stop acting like a such fucktard.” (Quadszilla, you know that link is nofollow’ed. Sorry bud.)

Joe Holcomb, a fellow who worked at Blowsearch and Kanoodle and who hates click-fraud as much as anyone, wrote up his reaction:

This does not sound like 100% damning information. [bolding preserved from the original post.] Frankly this all sounds more sensationalistic than credible as I look deeper into it but I have yet to track down the WebmasterRadio archive of Jim’s announcement.

I’m not backing Google here or damning anyone – but as someone who has covered this issue for a long time…. some things just don’t make sense, or add up here.

Ionut Alex. Chitu responded to the whole mess with a mocking post entitled Google is Responsible for All the Bad Things.

And just like that, the story started to crumble. A journalist with InformationWeek noticed the controversy and commented sarcastically on it:

That’s just the tip of the iceberg. All the major search engines are helping pedophiles, Nazis, and murderers find information about all sorts of things. Car manufacturers are providing militants with materials to make car bombs. Airlines are spreading deadly diseases around the globe. Nike is providing footwear for fascists.

Companies do have some responsibility for the use of their products and services. But there are limits. If Osama bin Laden downed some bottled water at some point in his life, does it make sense to condemn Evian for sustaining terrorism? Not really.

It’s been days now; why didn’t this story catch on more? In his comments on ThreadWatch, Jim Hedger said

If it bleeds it leads. The sizzle is sexier than the meat. In the end, the consensus among the dozen or so SEM experts and journalists involved in developing the story says the terrorism angle is the sex that will sell the rest of the story.

Personally, I think trying to sprinkle a little terrorism on a story because it’s the “sex that will sell the rest of the story” is, well, disgusting. If the “meat” of your click-fraud story isn’t sexy enough, I don’t care how many experts tell you to spice it up with some terrorism. It’s still a bad idea.

Next up, I’ll discuss the “meat” of this story: the allegations of bad clicks.

Added: DaveN co-hosts Strikepoint on WebmasterRadio, not SEO Rockstars, which is Greg Boser and Todd Friesen. Sorry about that DaveN, I knew that.

18 Responses to Watching a story, part I (Leave a comment)

  1. A quick search on Technorati for [Google click fraud terrorism] brought up 1,152 results and Google blog search 2,198 results. I know I wrote about it. Certainly, there’s reason to be disappointed in the sizzle aspect of the story, but it doesn’t negate the fact that there’s much to be discussed about the rest of it. And I personally would like to see more of that discussed and fleshed out.

  2. DazzlinDonna, Technorati may report 1000+ results, but by the second page (result #20), the results are from 10 days ago, before this started being reported. I count less than ten actual articles about this issue for that Technorati search, and a couple are like http://www.adsense-signup.com/2006/12/08/adsense/does-google-fund-terrorist-activities-and-support-osama-no/
    which says “As a legitimate advertising agency, Google is vulnerable to click-fraud, and misues of it’s service, but give me a friggin break. Terrorism? Wow. Who comes up with this stuff…. ”

    My personal opinion is that if Jim wanted to do in-depth coverage, going with a terrorism angle actually hurt his story.

  3. Mike McDonald

    Jim’s a nice guy and generally a reliable source of good info… I’m sure he’s probably pretty mortified at how all this has turned out.

    Personally, I get the impression that he was left high and dry by more than a few people when this didn’t blow up into an evening news story.

    I’d bet dollars to donuts if this was running all over CNN right now there would be people lining up to say they were backing Jim up all the way.

  4. > why didn’t this story catch on more?
    Matt, it didn’t catch on because its a stupid, senationalist story and, frankly, there was no ‘whats in it for me?’ payoff for the large majority of SEOs who could have played it up.

    The click fraud aspect as an industry problem is far more interesting. To conflate it with terrorism is to confuse the issue, and most of us know that we must not let click fraud reduction be minimised by anything!

    Now I’ll read your next entry :)

  5. As much as I hate to agree with a blackhat, in this case the one particular BH is right: the reason this didn’t spread is because it’s so damned stupid.

    Google funding terrorist groups?
    But I thought Google had the CIA tie-in!
    No wait…Google themselves IS the terrorist group, gathering up all of your private information via the Desktop search and selling it to…well, you don’t want to know, mostly because the conspiracy theorists don’t know and don’t want to tell you.

    People, let’s get our conspiracy BS straight here. I don’t even know why I’m supposed to hate Google anymore. It’s a joke. A sick, cruel, twisted joke.

    But since it is a joke, I figure this is a joke worth having a little fun with. Let’s all play the “guess the next conspiracy” game. I’m going to go with “Google will secretly fund the French government as les Francais attempt to acquire enough men and weapons to secretly reveal after 120 years that the Statue of Liberty is their version of a Trojan horse.”

    Come on, who wants to play? It’s fun! Use your imagination, kids!

  6. Mike McDonald, I got to meet Jim in person for the first time at SES San Jose, and he was very friendly and personable. I also talked with Jim briefly at Pubcon Vegas about hacked sites. I agree that I’m not quite sure how we got here from there.

    Multi-Worded Adam, that was a frightenly, um, specific, suggestion. Do you know anything I should know? :)

  7. Were you wearing an “I’d rather be Jihading” t-shirt or something maybe when you met him?

  8. Ummmmm….n-n-n-n-noooooooo.

    * Mental note…the head of webspam knows too much. *

  9. Not suprising that the story didn’t take off from the sizzle headline, because the real meat of the storry didnt support it. Agreed, they should have just gone forward with the click fraud story.

    More annoying to me is why Matt NoFollow’d the link to Quad while he was more then happy to use his quote. If your willing to quote him with your other examples his link should also be the same as the other people you linked to.

  10. “The sizzle is sexier than the meat.”

    Wasn’t a particularly sexy sizzle, either.

    What’s incredibly ironic is that after your Part 2 summary, this shows the second time we’ve seen advertisers “break a story” about how lame AdWords is – only to be left advertising that as PPC companies they are lame at managing PPC campaigns.

    Overall, I think whatever concerns, criticisms, and animosities webmasters may have regarding Google, throwing attention grabbing keywords like “terrorism” around Google just isn’t going to sell.

    2c.

  11. D

    Matt, it’s funny to read posts from you on these type of topics because you are totally clueless to the common sense of these things. You are part of a giant institution. For you to claim that you know everything that goes on in it’s walls is ludicrous. You are just a spoke on the wheel. With the billions upon billions of dollars in google’s pockets, there is a very high chance some of that money was misappropriated and went to fund terrorism. Not to say that it was on purpose, but it happens. I can name several government officials and many other companies that have uknowningly transfered funds to terrorists. I remeber several attack ads during election claiming my very own official funded terror, and he still got elected. Commercials saying “If you smoke weed, you fund terrorism”. If you buy certain types of bricks, you fund some terror. It’s just the way the world works. Google is not perfect. Stop trying to flat out deny every little rumor, it makes you look like your hiding something. Instead explain the thinking behind the rumor, because when you leave holes in your debunking, it only fans the flames.

  12. Matt, is Quad considered a “bad neighborhood”?

    I link to him occasionally because he makes me laugh, and he’s a good guy as far as I can tell.

    There’s reallly nothing “black hat” about his blog, so it would be a shame if sites are penalized for linking to him.

  13. “D”…IF THAT IS YOUR REAL NAME…(is it?)

    It’s a lot easier to hide behind the cloak of anonymity and make comments like that without potentially exposing yourself as a hypocrite (as the former CIA agent has) than it is to have the guts to step forward, say who you are publicly and be prepared for the same scrutiny someone like Matt gets. Hiding also makes your own point look that much weaker (not that it was much of a point before.)

    Stand up and be counted!

  14. D

    Multi-Worded Adam, I am not Matt, and thats all you really need to know about me. I am not the public face of a public company. My point is, I cannot say for a fact that my senator does not fund terrorism just because I live in the state. To know that for sure, I would have to be handling his finaces. For Matt to know for a fact that his company does not fund terrorism would require him doing an audit of all the financial records himself. Just because you are sitting in the car doesn’t mean you’re the driver, or even the navigator. Does Matt handle confidential requests for information from the government? No? So then how does he know when it happens? Because his PR person tells him so? Well that must make it true then.

  15. fra

    well, the article is just sensationalism. I said it and I repeat it. What can be intresting is the click fraud part… I’d really like to know what you think abut this, matt.
    Oh, and that nofollow link… bleah… :-)

  16. So you’re hiding because…?

    Running the Google toolbar?
    Maybe GAS on your site?
    Blogspot.com blog?

    Must be all of the above. So you’re funding terrorism too, probably. And you’re payiing taxes to that terrorist-funding senator in your home state too!

    (Now do you see how rampant, illogical speculation with nothing to back it up is asinine? That was the real point, and the point of the whole debunking in the first place.)

  17. Matt,

    I like you and all, but in regards to the SEO Blackhat link being nofollowed….

    If you think them worthy of citation, why wouldn’t they be worthy of being followed? It’s not a paid link. And isn’t that what nofollow was designed for?

    And, yes, the Google-funding terrorists thing is assclownery.

  18. Click Fraud is a problem, and Google might be founding terrorism. But could Google be blamed? I don’t think so.

    John Scott is right about the rel=”nofollow”, shame on you! If you don’t like a source then don’t link out to it. Using rel=”nofollow” on a unpaid link that you have added yourself while quoting the source is unethical.

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