Monday, July 26, 2010

Book review: Google Bomb: The Untold Story of the $11.3 M Verdict that Changed the Way We Use the Internet

Google Bomb: The Untold Story of the $11.3M Verdict That Changed the Way We Use the InternetI have been trying to get a copy of this book since I finished Wild West 2.0 because I was interested in the real life "google bombing" enacted against Sue Scheff. Sue Scheff is the founder of PURE, described as a "parenting advocacy association", and she responded via email to a request from a parent who needed to get her children from a facility in a foreign country. Scheff had a brief electronic advising relationship with this person, but when Scheff had to respond negatively to a request for information, the correspondent began a negative campaign against her, conducted online and using the "google bomb".

In a google bombing, the Google search results affiliated with that person or organization's name are hijacked by results that redirect to sites that are not flattering to the person or organization you just searched for. For example, in Scheff's case, a search for her name led to unflattering and sexually explicit comments about her, which drew users away from her own website and made it look as though she was no longer the upright and impartial advocate that she had portrayed. She lost clients. She lost referrals. She lost esteem in her community of counselors and parents. She also lost her privacy when another  legal deposition, which included private information of clients and her own personal information, such as her Social Security Number, was posted to the Internet. It was at this point that she decided to fight back and launch her court case that ultimately led to the enormous civil decision.

Throughout Scheff's recounting of her struggles, the co-author and lawyer John W. Dozier Jr explains some of the legal issues and decisions about online defamation and trademark law. He explains how online smear campaigns are run and uses personal examples from his own law firm to discuss how campaigns can affect businesses. He describes how there are current legal remedies for these issues if a person or organization comes under attack and how the courts can have real teeth when dealing with a person who attempts to google bomb another person or organization.

I found this book to be highly informative, though I wish there was more information about the steps you can take or how to gather evidence of the attack to take to a lawyer, the ISP that hosts the site or the police should you feel that the harassment may become RL violent.

The book is also part of the "cult of amateurs" camp, in the sense that the educated "grown-ups"--journalists, lawyers, business leaders--should be elevated to Internet authorities and regular people should follow the recommendations of the elite. I would have laughed out loud at Dozier's paternalistic assertion, "if you cannot use and understand that technology your kids are using, then don't allow them to use it" if most of the book had not been written in such a calm and authoritative manner, so that this seemed like a reasonable assertion. However, no more chemistry sets and wrenches, junior, because I just don't know a Philips head from a hammer, so you can't play with one either, is not a reasonable assertion.

The harassers that this book described are not the same as everyday people who have expertise in a field. I am also not advocating surgery by non-surgeons, but I think a mechanic can offer better opinions than a marketer on a automaker's blog, and a person who receives customer service can offer a different side to the story of the interaction than the person who gives customer service. It is also rather ridiculous to suggest that all college educated experts are non-biased. Some "citizen journalists" are civil, honest and knowledgeable--and they are not as obsessed and hostile as Scheff's tireless attackers. We can't make the Internet a better place by shutting it down or shutting people out. They will just find another back channel, just as this book describes.

I don't know what the solution is to this dilemma--make people nicer?--but having some knowledge of attacks and how to document them is a good first step.

Google Bomb: The Untold Story of the $11.3M Verdict That Changed the Way We Use the Internet

No comments: