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:
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.