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The fact is, we have all been in some kind of echo-chamber at some point. Some self inflicted and others, pushed upon us to manipulate our ability to react to certain situations. Today, Truthout revealed one such echo-chamber. One that is created by Google.

I know I have said this many times over the past few years, and I will say it many more times: "So Much For Don't Be Evil."

What else could we define it as, when a huge company like Google markets itself as an politically neutral, optimized search engine, when it skews every individual result based on the politics and culture of your location, the desires of your government, and the amount of cash dumped into their coffers for search results?

To me, that is absolutely evil, unethical, and immoral, because it misrepresents the services that Google pretends to offer to the public for free. And we should all know by now, that nothing in this world is free. Even Google's search results come a price, even if you don't know you are paying. Slip under the orange portal if you want to read more.

What am I talking about? Truthout ran a story yesterday about a professor at Cornell U who noticed some strange search results regarding his paper on Fracking, on the Google Search Engine.  The title: How Google is Helping the Gas Lobby Support Fracking.

Dr Howarth wrote a paper on the environmental hazards of fracking and this is what occurred after that paper was published online:

Soon after the paper was released, Howarth and others noticed a disturbing phenomenon on Google. Every time Professor Howarth's name was placed into a Google search engine, the first thing that appeared was an ad from ANGA, devoted strictly to hampering the credibility of Howarth's research. The page was listed as an ad but at a quick glance, it simply looked like the top search result. As of the time of this writing, late October, the ad still displayed that way. TruthOut
The reason this caught my eye? I witnessed similar bizarre search results during the BP Gulf Gusher. I believe that this is a rather timely discussion given the indictments and fines being levied on BP and the charges against a chosen few of it's corporate, sacrificial lambs at the present.

Some limited coverage of BP's antics with ad buying was given, it was noted in the press that BP paid big bucks to Google for top spots on the search engine. But that was sort of a feint.

Google has become the remote control for the world; it's the first stop, not TV," said Will Margiloff, CEO of Innovation Interactive, a unit of Denstu. "More than any other media, that messaging is requested; people are seeking BP's answers out as opposed to waiting to be told."

The steep acceleration of spending indicates BP opted for "broad match" keywords, meaning many combinations of "oil" or "spill" would trigger a BP search ad. BP also bought video search ads, which directed surfers to BP videos. BP declined to comment for this story. Adage.com 2010

We--myself included, all expected to see BP inhabit perhaps the top 5 spaces on any given page regarding a search on the Gulf of Mexico, Oil, BP, Corexit, along with some ads in the margins. What I saw that was totally unexpected was this:

The Search results came out weirdly backwards. Pertinent search results that should have appeared within the top 20 returns due to content and date, instead appeared 100 pages into a search. And it took me a bit of time to figure this out. Anyone else notice that local news coverage in the Gulf of Mexico on the Gulf Gusher never appeared on search results? It was online, it should have been near the top or at the top, but instead, these results often didn't appear at all, or were so deep inside the pages of returned results, that you could spend hours digging to find them.

I had a couple of friends conduct their own searches, they indicated similar outcomes.

In order to find the information I wanted to see, I instead had to go find the individual names of of local television stations and newspapers in the Gulf of Mexico, and the go directly to their sites and search on those sites. How many Americans are going to think of that, much less accomplish that in a lunch hour or in that short period of time before work or bed if they work outside the home?

Once again, a very time consuming alternative to what was allegedly an "Optimized Search Engine".

And no one seemed to notice or care. Also missing were blog entries on many searches, that should have appeared due to content relevance and timing, but did not. I was only able to find blogs on the Gulf of Mexico, by hopping from blog to blog. I suspect this is true, because like many of the television and news stories, the accounts of what was happening in the Gulf of Mexico were not flattering to BP or the Unified Command.

Once again, these methods of search I devised were very complicated, time consuming with regards to searches of first hand accounts of residents in the Gulf, that should been more visible on a politically and corporate-neutral, "optimized" search engine.
Think about it, there are over 40 regular television stations in Louisiana alone, and all are online with their own web pages. Can anyone explain to me why, the local stories regarding the Gulf of Mexico BP Disaster would not show up on search engine results? Even 20 or 40 pages into the search results?
There are 27 news papers listed for Louisiana, not counting university papers, and about half show they have websites, why wouldn't their local coverage show up as well?

Which would be more relevant to a story? A bland news treatment of the Gusher from a state thousands of miles away, or a story from the Gulf of Mexico itself?

Now add the news agencies from Alabama, Mississippi, some parts of Texas, and Florida and you have to wonder WHY none of the search results showed the local stories that were published online at these sites in a regular search result, somewhere in the first couple of pages of results.

I searched for someone who could give me answers regarding this observation, and no one seemed to care. I care. I still care and here is why.

Imagine how meddling with the neutrality of a massive search engine like Google will effect the quality and content of news stories all over the country? Which way will the majority of corporate sponsors lean on this or that issue today? To the Left or to the Right? And how will this affect the tone and content of journalistic pieces researched using Google results or web search engines that utilize Google as part of their meta-searches?

How will this sort of meddling affect your perceptions of any given issue, regardless of your political leanings?

To me this is no different than purging the card catalog in a Public Library. The books are still there, everything you want and need is still in the library, but you have no reliable way to find those books, because the card catalog has been purged and the books have been misplaced and/or mislabeled under the Dewey Decimal System on purpose.

Sure you could eventually find them, but you have to search the WHOLE physical library first. Meanwhile the topic you are researching is getting hotter and hotter and you have no way to organize a coherent response, because you are essentially misinformed at best, by corporate punditry, or simply in the dark period.

The Truthout Story asks a question I have harped on in other forums many times:

Do Google and other companies have a responsibility to the public to consider the way their search engine can be used to advance the interests of certain industries? This method naturally empowers wealthy industries to dominate Google search results given their massive resources and vested financial interests in the way in which science is discussed in the public sphere. And the company does ultimately answer to shareholders and not to the public at large. Given this reality, what can we expect from Google and other corporate giants of the Internet world when it comes to providing valuable information that serves the public? Truthout
What is the point of pretending that these search engines serve the public interests if the engines owners allow corporations or even government factions to skew the results of internet searches, effectively censoring the public and the press, by silently, disallowing access to neutral search results? Explain to me what the point of pretending we have freedom of the press or freedom of expression, if relevant, authentic material is buried in favor of these misleading corporate ads?

When PR firms can subcontract individuals to bury stories that don't suit their clientele's agenda, we have a big problem. Especially when that happens in addition to money paid directly to these search engines for top rating spots. That's not a search engine, that's the yellow pages. That's a propaganda machine, it's a mouthpiece, and it shouldn't be advertised as politically neutral, or corporate-neutral.

The only people benefiting from this "Search Optimizations" are the ones who can pay for it.

I know you all thought that the battle for hearts and minds was taking place overseas, or perhaps between parties. I offer to you that there is a similar battle taking place with this war on access to information. Explain to me, how letting corporations dominate the net via misleading ads parading as blogs or news stories doesn't threaten net neutrality?

How is this not the same as the Citizen's United issue, where the more money you have, the more votes you get? Online or in the government?

How can we claim to have conducted good research, and presented the pertinent sides to any story at all, if the material "provided" for our research is already skewed before we type in the keywords?

The Howarth story has a lot of other disturbing observations you need to witness. It's not just what Google is doing to influence the public, but also how this is used to silence Scientists who are trying to stand up for a clean environment, or any green issue.

Take the elements of this story and paste it onto the Tobacco suits--how might these sort of practices altered the outcome of that? How might similar practices be altering the dialogue about Climate Change? Campaign Money? Bank Reform? Or any big issue that has afflicted the American people in the last 10 years?

It's has been clear to me that these big online entities are incapable of policing themselves, and that some regulations need to be applied that protect the privacy of the people, and their access to neutral search results.

Originally posted to GreenMother on Fri Nov 16, 2012 at 08:02 AM PST.

Also republished by Community Spotlight.

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When you enter a phrase into a search engine you expect which of the following results?

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Comment Preferences

  •  Thank You for Posting This (27+ / 0-)

    It really is amazing just how much power Google wields and what it can do when it comes to search results.

    What a Brave New World we live in.

  •  Thank you for your eye-opening input. (15+ / 0-)

    I've had suspicions about this for years while using Google and now you have confirmed it.  I hope this information gets very wide exposure.  Does anyone know of a fully comprehensive search engine that is committed to not doing this?  If this doesn't exist yet,  I hope one emerges.

  •  Use www.duckduckgo.com (15+ / 0-)

    To avoid the google search engine results bubble, and to avoid supporting them.

    Stop using google wherever you can.  

    The "don't be evil" thing seems to have gone by the wayside after they brought in a Microsoft executive.  They're a bunch of corporate tools now, all about the bottom line.

    Which is sad.   They're doing some real innovating even now, but their policies are awful.

  •  GM, tx for this diary (7+ / 0-)

    I did a search for 'Robert Hawarth Cornell University" in 'Dogpile" and "Firefox" and the results were ok.  Reports of his concerns were in the first 5 results.  Firefox did use google.

    However, I have noticed that if you search for something frequently, then it seems to set off alarm bells and your search becomes predetermined.  fwiw.

    It is enough that the people know there was an election. The people who cast the votes decide nothing. The people who count the votes decide everything. ~~Joseph Stalin

    by SeaTurtle on Fri Nov 16, 2012 at 10:38:52 AM PST

  •  It is a real problem, but regulating the (6+ / 0-)

    internet, especially as to content is something that I would not support.

    That, in its essence, is fascism--ownership of government by an individual, by a group, or by any other controlling private power. -- Franklin D. Roosevelt --

    by enhydra lutris on Fri Nov 16, 2012 at 10:40:54 AM PST

  •  so it's NOT just me thinkin' Google was watching.. (5+ / 0-)
    Meanwhile, I have quoted that particular article, directly from it's source, over and over for years, and it has always come right up on the top of the links list I get by searching "Freedom to Tinker" + "hotel mini-bar key." I do it the long way because I am not that technical, but I know the routes to where I want to go. Just now i searched it that way and found that his article no longer comes right up; I had to find it at another source, and  bradblog, with conspiracy crap mixed in + some red-flashing danger sites come up as the list instead.

    It appears the Google has noticed we found the keys...

    •  It is very creepy. I am so glad Truthout Covered (3+ / 0-)

      this. I hope that some day someone comes forward. I found some ways around things. I keep them to myself though, so I can still find what I need, when I need it. I realize I am cursed with lots of typos, but don't let that fool you into thinking I cannot research. I can find anything in a library or an archive. And I suppose that is why the Intuitive Software rarely if ever works for me. I have not been a thinker in a box ever in my life, and so their box isn't just insulting, but often crippling in the form of the bubble.

  •  creepy... (7+ / 0-)

    just on a lark, I put a line from the Truthout piece, quoted in the diary into a google search.

    Do Google and other companies have a responsibility to the public to consider the way their search engine can be used to advance the interests of certain industries?
    The response came. Look at the top return. It came above the actual Truthout article link.
    It's a letter from Google's Larry Page explaining Google's intentions and plan for their search engine.

    A few snips from the paragraph titled 'Love and Trust':

    We have always wanted Google to be a company that is deserving of great love.
    and
    We have always believed that it’s possible to make money without being evil.
    I mean, I'm a devoted Google user. But that is creepy.
    •  You did the search wrong. (0+ / 0-)

      If you are looking for an exact quote, you have to put the string inside quotation marks.

      I did that and the truth-out article was first, followed by links to Daily Kos and other sites that had quoted it. No Google love letter.

      "They smash your face in, and say you were always ugly." (Solzhenitsyn)

      by sagesource on Fri Nov 16, 2012 at 01:12:41 PM PST

      [ Parent ]

      •  Yes. Aware of that. (2+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        GreenMother, Amber6541

        That would only give the quote or requote though.

        I think the Google knows the intention of the Truthout article. 'It' 'wants' it's own statement to be heard alongside the Truthout piece.

        Yes, I actually think we are nearing that point, the time that we used to call 'the future'.

        We are stepping into the future. And it seems mighty weird, if you look at it right.

    •  as i duplicated the search.... (2+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      themank, blueoasis

      the creepy results came up.

      but what is even more creepy, is that Google Analytics are still pumping me with ads for Monterey, CA motels, that i have no intention of going to for the near or immediate term. Vegas i go to frequently. Monterey, no.

      creepy.....

      Coca-Cola stock has split 48-1 since May of 1985, And that does NOT include dividends.

      by slave 357 on Fri Nov 16, 2012 at 01:13:44 PM PST

      [ Parent ]

      •  No intention... yet.... (0+ / 0-)

        Perhaps it knows more than you do about what your acquaintances, within 2 degrees of separation, are planning in their gmail.

        Old friends from cold country, considering a winter reunion somewhere warm. Emailing back and forth, "how about Palm Springs in January?" "Well, you know, we should contact slave357, isn't he/she nearby."  "Yeah, I heard slave357 was sick of Vegas." "How about Monterey?"

  •  The reason you don't know how Google (4+ / 0-)

    works is because it's Google's most closely guarded secret. If folks knew how it worked, they could game the system. People do figure it out by trial and error and do game it, of course. People make money publishing books and papers on how to game it. From time to time, Google tweaks their algorithm to keep them guessing a little.

    A few years ago, if you googled "climate change" the first 100 sites would be climate deniers. That wasn't Google's fault.

    Google does modify results according to your preferences, which does tend to put you in a bubble, but only slightly. You don't have to click on the first link. Most people like it because it helps them find the sort of information they commonly look for.

    The links that float to the first pages do so because they're the links that most people are looking for and thus click on. So in a way, Google is debubbleizing you by showing you what the rest of your culture thinks, even if you don't like it.

    It's democracy, something the Internet is good at.

    People wish to be settled, only as far as they are unsettled is there any hope for them. - Emerson

    by CarbonFiberBoy on Fri Nov 16, 2012 at 11:57:26 AM PST

    •  But what if your views aren't majority (6+ / 0-)

      but minority ones?

      •  <g> Yep. (0+ / 0-)

        Well, at least you'll think you know what the majority views are! But all you'll really know is the views of the most committed to that viewpoint. Ideologues will usually out-click the rational folks.

        But right, you just have to page down until you find information or opinions that support your world view. We all know that's not too hard. (:-)>

        People wish to be settled, only as far as they are unsettled is there any hope for them. - Emerson

        by CarbonFiberBoy on Fri Nov 16, 2012 at 02:53:23 PM PST

        [ Parent ]

        •  Your sanguine belief in democracy (1+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:
          GreenMother

          fails to explain why genuinely pertinent results seem to be relegated to pages a few or dozens of pages down in the results.

           No one plows through more than the first two or three pages at most.

           That's not relevancy!  It's advertisng income and maybe something else.

      •  True, if everyone jumped off a virtual cliff, (3+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        YucatanMan, sockpuppet, lotlizard

        would you follow? Sometimes I am researching all sorts of things, because I want a more rounded view, whether it's government documents, or opposing views, and even back in college, I might be delving into religious sites or conspiracy sites to show this or that construct or narrative. I don't need Google weeding that out, it cramps my style. It probably does that to a lot of people, they just haven't realized it yet.

    •  My experience that I described during the Gulf (2+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      YucatanMan, DeminNewJ

      Gusher was literally the opposite. I had been searching and searching different stories for first hand accounts of life on the Gulf during the clean up and during the Gusher. For a while searches were normal, but about the time Maddow covered the use of Mercenaries to patrol the beaches, there was a switch that flipped, and searches pulled up nothing.

      Maybe a few bland, stories that were low on usable information content, all the first hand stuff, all the local Gulf material was buried or just not there.

      I am not a techie, I thought perhaps there was some sort of exclusion bot going on in there. I know how to find things, I don't know how to write code, so a lot of the programming aspects are beyond my ken. Otherwise I would have better language to convey what I witnessed.

  •  At least #2 and #3 on the first page are critical (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    mahakali overdrive, blueoasis

    articles -- in fact, this post is #3 and the post it refers to is #2.  That doesn't seem as bad as 'burying the lede' in the 17th paragraph of a newspaper story, that turns up on a 'continued on' inside page.

    We're all pretty strange one way or another; some of us just hide it better. "Normal" is a dryer setting.

    by david78209 on Fri Nov 16, 2012 at 12:00:45 PM PST

  •  and by comparison, in late March early April 2001 (6+ / 0-)

    I heard something so preposterous on TV that I just had to go search for it online. President Bush, with Cheney right beside him, in CNN News was using the phrase "a pipeline across Iran, Iraq, Syria, and Turkey..." so I searched for "pipeline" + "Iran, Iraq, Syria, and Turkey" and I got one result. COUNT THEM: ONE result. That wasn't even the weirdest thing. That page was a simple business address home page for a solicitor's office in London, for people interested in doing business with a company called Dresser-Rand.
         Now I had only heard of Ingersoll Rand, but I had also just had a postcard from then Rep. Charlie Bass celebrating that he had just been put on the Energy, Commerce, and Everything Else Important Committee, and would I like to come to his Town Hall Meeting and ask questions? So I did.
         When I asked him "Why- our government would be talking about a 'pipeline across Iran, Iraq, Syria, and Turkey'" he started to say "That's the du[mbest thing I ever heard]" which I would have agreed with, that was why I was asking him about it. Then he flat-out denied it but there was another man in the room who stood up and said he'd heard the news say it too, and started waving downloaded internet pages at him, so he changed the focus of the meeting and all you could hear was DRILLING AT ANWR!!!

    So, since no one I asked seemed to know, I figured out on my own that Dresser-Rand was a subsidiary of something called Halliburton, doing business in Iraq by way of France. (Anyone want Freedom Fries with that?)
     But, but- "that would be wrong..."

  •  The conclusions of that scientific paper (0+ / 0-)

    EPA has published rulemaking requiring that methane be collected from the operations identified in that paper by available and technical feasible means.    Once that rule takes effect, methane emissions described in the paper are typical will no longer be discharged at anywhere near the rates cited in the paper.

     

  •  Part of the answer=information literacy (10+ / 0-)

    I cannot comment on whether Google's SEO'ed results are more or less fair than others.

    But part of the solution is teaching people not to regard Google (or any search engine, for that matter) as the be-all and end-all of information discovery.  A great way to meet simple information needs ("where's the nearest pizza place?") but not such a great way to answer more complicated or value-laden questions ("Is the impact of fracking on the environment worth it?")

    As librarian, let me bring up a concept that we sometimes use: the difference between "satisfying" an information need, and "satisticing" an information need.

    The former means, you have a question, and get either (a) a correct answer; or, more likely, especially if your question is complex, (b) useful suggestions for where to go to find the answer.  The question is treated with the appropriate level of specificity: if it's not a straight factual query, the user is given the tools to make their own mind up.

    On the other hand, "satisficing" means: you find something that looks like the answer, and go away feeling like you got the answer.  A complex question is given a straightforward answer, for example.  

    Google, like all search engines, is incredibly good at satisficing complex queries, giving users the impression that their question has been answered.  And by and large, users feed into this through their own behavior: they look at the first 3 results and that's it.  

    It is not nearly as good as actually answering your question, for a number of reasons, but one underlying one: it's not smart enough to really understand what you're asking, it's just retrieving results based on the words in your query and arranging them according to a proprietary "relevance-ranking" algorithm.

    I don't know if it is possible or even desirable to regulate Google, or any search engine for that matter.  But what needs to happen is people need to become much more critical about search engines and their ability to answer complex questions.  

    We do this all the time with students, teaching them how to use, and how not to use, the Internet to do actual research.  Much less effort is put into getting this type of training out to the public.  

    Which is a pity because everyday information needs are just as complicated as research needs.

    Barack Obama for President

    by looty on Fri Nov 16, 2012 at 12:15:17 PM PST

    •  100% agree (4+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      looty, slave 357, sockpuppet, DeminNewJ

      I work with our University librarians to teach some of these skills to students too. We generally wind up saying about what you've just spelled out.

    •  So you are okay with corporate propoganda, (0+ / 0-)

      taking precedence at the top 3 or 20 search results, for an average search, and are also okay with Google representing itself to the public as a Neutral-Search Engine with no ulterior motives with regard to paid advertisers?

      •  That's over the top (4+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        annan, looty, madhaus, DeminNewJ

        The commenter was talking about the grander scheme of information literacy, which is an entire discipline within any Liberal Arts education founded upon the notion of Critical Thinking. I think leaping from there to saying that a librarian, who is extolling Critical Thinking in regard to Information Literacy, and how search engines like Google fit into that picture, is an uncalled for leap to make.

        The comment, additionally, was an extremely intelligent and well-conceived one.

        •  My Apologies if I misread, but I too was (0+ / 0-)

          defending access to information for critical thinkers. Propaganda as a reference in context to a subject--AS propaganda is one thing. But to encounter that online being promoted as viable information that is minimally biased is another.

  •  Just switched to duckduckgo....had never heard (4+ / 0-)

    of it.

    "I think it is much more interesting to live not knowing than to have answers that might be wrong." Richard Feynman

    by leema on Fri Nov 16, 2012 at 12:18:53 PM PST

  •  Unfortunately, most of the anti-hydraulic.... (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    blueoasis, Martin519

    ...fracturing movement in the United States is trapped in a Josh Fox/Gasland bubble of their own making, dedicated to denial of geological engineering, geology and hydrology as sciences for environmental health and risk evaluation of hydraulic fracturing operations and other oil & gas operations.   In doing so, enviros jeopardize their public credibility on the global warming issue and the strong scientific credibility on that matter.

    The whole anti-fracking campaign seems to be the worst case of environmental organization embrace of junk science, scientific misconduct and trekking up BullXXXX Mountain that I have ever seen in my 40 years of environmental work in the non-profit sector on public health, environmental protection and environmental enforcement.

    Josh Fox/Gasland has pwned the environmental movement and they don't even know or recognize it.   That is really sorry state of affairs.

    •  I know, just like those Climate Monkeys. (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      bluedust

      When it's your water that is poisoned and your air, be sure and come over here for some well earned sympathy. Ditto about the loss of equity in your land, home and business.

      •  There's no scientific case at all for saying... (1+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        Martin519

        ....that carrying out the hydraulic fracturing operation in tight rock strata 5-8 thousand feet below ground has caused any of the wellhead pollution problems alleged.   Those kind of problems are cause by failures of work practices for well structures near the surface and any such conduct by a
        natural gas operator is a violation of most state's rule requirements.    The solution to pollution problems occurring at or near well-heads will never be accomplished by banning hydraulic fracturing below ground.   The solution to the well head problems which are not as frequent as Josh Fox says is tough enforcement, not ending the whole natural gas exploration industry.    

        If you want to end the whole natural gas exploration industry, please let us all know in advance as there will be a lot of frozen people in Michigan if you do so.

        •  So because the companies have failed to enforce (0+ / 0-)

          best practices, we should all be peachy with fracking as it stands now, with no new laws, and no new regulatory documents to help prevent improper handling of brine or improper drilling, and just let things go on as they are?

          Cause I am not "peachy" with that. When you watch children, if they cannot play nice with a toy, if they cannot play safely with a toy, then you take it away from the child.

          If the companies cannot get their acts together and 1. do this responsibly and safely, and 2. properly compensate people whose livelihoods and property were irreparably damaged, then clearly we need to take their toys away.

          So when local residents have polluted water and air, and cannot move, because they cannot sell their home, cannot work because they are now sick--due to improper techniques and unsafe practices of these companies--what did you think that their response would be?

        •  Perhaps you forget (1+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:
          GreenMother

          that the waste water product of the fracking process is regularly disposed of in environmentally unsafe and outright dangerous places.

            The huge quantity of water used (and currently discarded) has resulted in scientifically indicated incidents of geological slippage.  And many water tables HAVE been polluted by the waste.

          In general, I agree with you that strict regulation is critical to minimize these egregious problems.  However, that has not yet occurred and most of us are not expecting real regulation to take place anytime soon. After all, there's money to be made!

          Don't dismiss genuine ecological concerns as tin foil excesses of sloppy thinkers.  The history of corporate malfeasance in the environmental field is long and storied.  Kindly remove Josh Fox from your field of view long enough to see the entire picture. It is perhaps, not as rosy as you would kile.

  •  Thoughtful and insightful diary (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    GreenMother

    Curious to read the comments now.

  •  Lurker who works in internet advertising here... (5+ / 0-)

    I'm sorry but you're misinformed.  Google does not have an agenda with its search results beyond that of "who can game our SEO algorithm the best" and when too many people catch on, they change the algo and many have to start from scratch.

    The idea that google's organic search results are agenda driven is the height of ignorance and it is grossly irresponsible to be pushing that theory in a piece about avoiding the echo chamber.

    True, they've pushed their top placed ads above the organic listings, but they're clearly marked as sponsored links, no conspiracy here.  What happened with the professor is that his name is being bought as a keyword so when people search for it, an ad shows up that pushes an agenda.  This is only being facilitated by google the same way anybody could place an add there.  I'll give you an example:

    A few years back "clean coal" was being bid on very aggressively by some interest groups who were trying to push their narrative.  I noticed this and set up a neutral page about "clean goal - is it for real" (or something like that), placed an ad feed on the page that displayed relevant ads, then drove traffic to the page and made money off those suckers.  Eventually, the traffic dropped off so I'm assuming somebody had the foresight to block my page from showing their ads.  But for about a week I was sitting pretty.

    The moral of the story is, just because google show's somebody's ad, doesn't mean it's anything other than business as usual.  If you want, build your own site, push your own narrative, and buy your own pay per click traffic.  Because what you have observed is just the way it's always worked.

  •  There's Two Criticisms Here; Only One Has Proof (5+ / 0-)

    The first complaint that paid ads can be placed on Google in such a way that they can be mistaken for search results has serious merit.  This, in fact, is still visible in the combos of search terms I checked.

    This may not be explicitly evil, but it is certainly, uhm, evil-curious.

    But the more serious allegation seems to be that Google was perverting search results on Deepwater spill-related terms during the spill. Currently, there is no proof that this happened. Current results seem to be appropriate.

    I wish I had seen this complaint at the time of the spill, not years later. At this point, there's nothing for us to do except take the charges at face value.

    I do not think this is wise since just repeating accusations made from others without have a provable foundation is what echo-chambering is all about. It's what got the GOP into the mess they had last week.

    Do we have any current examples of this we can look at?

    If I'm misunderstanding the original post, my apologies. What am I not getting?

    •  I wish I would have known to tell you personally (0+ / 0-)
      I wish I had seen this complaint at the time of the spill, not years later. At this point, there's nothing for us to do except take the charges at face value.
      I would have been ecstatic to have a person I could trust who had the kind of knowledge it takes to look at the results I saw and explain to me why it was so wrong, so off, and so lacking in information.

      But you are right, it was 2010, and a computer crash/new computer ago for me. I would just be happy, now that I have told my story, if people kept their eyes open and watched to see if it happens again.

      Maybe that vigilance will be all it takes to make it to risky for that to be a possibility in the future. Maybe just having this conversation would be a possible deterrent too.

      I understand your trepidation, caution isn't a bad thing. Just keep your eyes open.

  •  Thanks for posting (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    GreenMother, lotlizard

    I was trying to post a rather complicated response to a fracking comment on the Guardian website today, using links to other work,  and had the same problem. Another interesting bit of trivia is how spellcheck tries to correct the word fracking and change it to something else.

    "There's a crack in everything; that's how the light gets in". Leonard Cohen

    by northsylvania on Fri Nov 16, 2012 at 02:26:22 PM PST

  •  Their motto of "Do no evil" seems to be a (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    GreenMother

    cover for, "Collect as much money as possible, screw everyone else."

    Do no evil, indeed.

    "The law is meant to be my servant and not my master, still less my torturer and my murderer." -- James Baldwin. July 11, 1966.

    by YucatanMan on Fri Nov 16, 2012 at 04:13:43 PM PST

  •  Very important topic! (0+ / 0-)

    Thanks for a great diary. I've been thinking about actions we can take to address this.

    I think a social media campaign could be effective.
    Google very much seems to want to be thought of as one of the good guys. I think a public information campaign coupled with petitions and emails from the public might shame Google into better behavior.

    At the same time, maybe we could publicize and patronize search engines that don't engage in this type of behavior.
    See, for example, the Progressive Search Engine on the Democratic Progress website. Ironically, it's powered by Google Custom! When I typed in "fracking," though, I did get some anti-fracking results (although 2 of the 3 paid ads at the top of the screen were for fracking jobs).  http://democraticprogress.net/...

  •  You can do one of four things: (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Martin519, Dr Seuss

    1) Believe in a giant conspiracy, where Google spends millions of dollars manually modifying the search rankings of approximately one kagillion websites in order to accomplish nefarious but unspecified political achievements in countless political realms or else offset these expenses by bringing in massive amounts of ad revenue from countless co-conspirators by some unspecified business plan, or

    2) Google "google pagerank modification" and learn something about Google, what their standards are, and what programmers do in response to those standards.

    3) Learn how to make money by advertising on Google:
    http://www.google.com/...
    Someone pays for your ability to search for anything on billions of websites 24/7 and it sure isn't you - but it could be.

    4) Find a diary where something makes sense.

    I recommend #2. Learning is something that always makes you feel good. Or it should.

    People wish to be settled, only as far as they are unsettled is there any hope for them. - Emerson

    by CarbonFiberBoy on Fri Nov 16, 2012 at 06:01:49 PM PST

    •  Thanks for contributing to the voice of reason. (0+ / 0-)

      The people crying "conspiracy" are contributing to a willfully ignorant narrative, the whole thing smacks of Glenn Beck, but left wing.  I hate to go there but there is a comparison to be made. Hell, I even saw a comment above recommending people use some brand "progressive" search engine.  Sounds like conservapedia to me and what a great idea that was.

      If people can't learn from those mistakes then we're all in big trouble.

      •  Well, it certainly didn't make me happy when (3+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        bluedust, CarbonFiberBoy, lotlizard

        I encountered this. And prior to that, I had no complaints about Google.

        So, in the spirit of dialogue, I am willing to read what you have to say about Page Ranking, perhaps you can explain it so that even someone like me can understand.

        I will say at that time, it seemed to be on the leading edge of a paradigm shift with regards to Google's practices. I certainly wasn't the only one who noticed that things were amiss.

        Algorythmic Editing of the Web.

        I am not doing this. But a program that has been installed, for me, that I never help to write is editing.  If your search can be personalized in a positive manner, then hypothetically, couldn't the opposite be true?

        Is it a conspiracy? It certainly seemed very suspicious from my vantage point, however--either way, this directly affects my searches in a way that I don't care for even under the best of circumstances.

        •  Algorithmic -- (0+ / 0-)

          Sorry about the misspelling.

        •  What the TED lecturer is talking about (2+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:
          GreenMother, mahakali overdrive

          is Google moving things in which you are most interested higher up in your search results, as I mentioned in a earlier comment here. Google isn't hiding stuff from you, it's giving stuff in which are not interested a lower page rank, so you'll have to move down a page or two to see stuff that ranks less high by the Google algorithm as modified by your previous search patterns.

          This is not the same as Google intentionally hiding stuff from you. It is more you hiding stuff from yourself by building your own filter bubble.

          If you want to stop this and are using Chrome, go to Settings/Show advanced settings/Privacy and uncheck everything that sends information from your computer to Google. There's probably something similar in IE, but I'm not as familiar with that. Then Google can't build a filter profile for you.

          No, Google isn't going to use your search patterns to hide from you the very things for which you search. That's not a good business plan.

          What you have observed is that page rankings change as information moves through the Internet. A news site that comes up on your first search page today may come up on the 4th page tomorrow as the story develops and people's interests change. This is very much in evidence if you search News rather than the full Search.

          People wish to be settled, only as far as they are unsettled is there any hope for them. - Emerson

          by CarbonFiberBoy on Fri Nov 16, 2012 at 08:49:55 PM PST

          [ Parent ]

          •  I think you misunderstand (3+ / 0-)

            If I consistently search for specific items on Google that have to do with this subject, then how can a optimization program that seeks to show me related "wanted" results, give me just the opposite?

            That just makes absolutely no sense.

            And this happened over a short period of time. To my knowledge it hasn't been continuous. But I do wonder if it has been sporadic?

            According to the Pariser video the custom Google was in place in Dec 2009, so that is months before what I observed during the BP Gulf Gusher.

            As for the rest, I now, rarely use Google at all, not only because of this incident, but also because of their tracking habits.

            I appreciate though, your explanation.

            •  Another artifact of the software (2+ / 0-)
              Recommended by:
              GreenMother, mahakali overdrive

              is how it gathers information. All internet search engines, including Google, send out "spiders" to walk the web. (This language is a representation of a very complex computational behavior.) These spiders visit websites on a schedule sometimes determined by the websites they visit, sometimes by factors I don't understand.

              The only way a spider can walk the web is by following links. If a website or web page is unconnected to the web or has a tenuous connection, the spider cannot or may not reach it. Spiders can also only follow text links. They cannot follow graphical links. They have to be able to read the street signs. Some websites forbid spiders from visiting and have a sign, "Spiders keep out!"

              So it is very easy for websites to fade in and out of the sight of a search engine. You may have noticed that a search engine will even return links to a website that no longer exists or which has changed its name.

              Many websites are visited infrequently. So what you see returned by a search engine may not be an accurate representation of the current state of the Internet or the websites on it. It's really quite a difficult computational problem. So far, academic searchers feel that Google has done the best job at solving it.

              People wish to be settled, only as far as they are unsettled is there any hope for them. - Emerson

              by CarbonFiberBoy on Fri Nov 16, 2012 at 10:17:01 PM PST

              [ Parent ]

              •  I considered the spider issue when I first dug (1+ / 0-)
                Recommended by:
                lotlizard

                into this in 2010. However, that would only make sense on the personal websites and blog sites. It seems counterintuitive that this happen on news media sites. That seems absolutely nonsensical.

                I will tell you, what I told a friend recently, if you can provide an explanation that makes sense given the timing and other paramaters of this strange and suspicious event, then I would be relieved to have some sort of explanation that didn't point in an ominous direction.

                It's not just the subject, but the timing combined with parallel attempts to block information in other avenues simultaneously.

                In fact I can think of no time before or after, that I have ever seen such strange results from Google or any other search engine.

                Who knows maybe when BP made the lucrative search term deal, the code was flawed, unintentionally.

                It would be nice, if that were the case, if something were said.

                •  I can't comment on your personal experience. (2+ / 0-)
                  Recommended by:
                  GreenMother, mahakali overdrive

                  I've never seen anything like that happen. My guess is that it's simply information flow. With a major catastrophe like that, links are going to flow toward news aggregators. I would not ordinarily expect local stations to appear on the first pages of a news search for a major news event unless I included their call sign in my search.

                  Search "Petraeus" today, for instance. Even though Florida plays a big role in the scandal, how many pages do you have to go through to find a Florida station? If you search "Jill Kelley" you'll see about one local link per page, even though she lives in Florida. And the local info will be from a national news feed, not even local reporting. That's just how it is today.

                  People wish to be settled, only as far as they are unsettled is there any hope for them. - Emerson

                  by CarbonFiberBoy on Sat Nov 17, 2012 at 08:03:44 AM PST

                  [ Parent ]

                  •  Fair enough, but doesn't that make you wonder why (0+ / 0-)

                    Would we get more detailed information from the the actual areas where things are happening? And in a crisis, wouldn't it make sense for local stations to come to the top due to relevance? They would have location, topic, and date going for them.

                    So why exclude them? Doesn't that seem odd to you? That we leave the control of flow of information to only news aggregates that often take more details out, pertinent details and first hand accounts?

                    Which would you rather read, a bland collection of blurbs on an event that delivers a low load of details, or something that gives context?

                    Wouldn't this downgrade the quality of information flowing and play into the law of diminishing returns?

                  •  Sorry to double post but here is an example (0+ / 0-)

                    If I went to a search engine, whether that's google or an engine that uses google, and I type in a town in Alabama, corexit, Oil Spill, as parameters, then why wouldn't a local station pop up, especially if that station covers that town in Alabama and reported on the spill and corexit on or within a day of my date of the search?

                    Why would I repeatedly only get returns from old stories from CNN or MSNBC that are 5 to 10 days old or older plus BP ads, and not get a hit for that station story at least in the first two or three pages of the search?

                    And if that is the nature of the beast, how it's always been done?  That doesn't make sense why the station managers and web managers would put up with that. Why degrade the search results like that by cutting that coverage out?

                    And for that matter, why would the people put up with that? Explain to me how weeding those results out, isn't some sort of attempt to control the flow of information by depriving internet searchers of the most up to date, timely and contextual material?

                    •  Sorry, no conspiracy (0+ / 0-)

                      It's just how the web works. Pages get ranked higher for relevancy and for incoming links.

                      Relevancy means essentially how many times your search words occur in the text portion of the web page, how many of them occur,  where in the page, and in what contexts they occur. The spiders don't care about your opinions about relevancy. They just count. I know it's mindless, but with billions of pages to visit, that's all they can do. No human agency present.

                      Station managers don't have any say over it. Each web managers tries to get higher page rankings but so does every other web manager. In any event, news content ranks how it ranks. Nothing to be done. And of course the smaller and more local the station, the fewer incoming links to any particular story, and the less likely it is to be visited by spiders during the story's relevancy. I have a web site that seems to get visited about once every 2 weeks and I'm over a million total hits for that site. That's pretty normal. The web managers can rage all they want. Doesn't change the math.

                      Nobody is weeding anything out. It's just math. What you have to do is to learn to search smarter. I can find anything I want to know on the web, but I spend a lot of time searching, so I'm good at it. You have to figure out what word combinations will find the results you're looking for. It's just time in grade coupled with obstinacy.

                      Try finding a retail source for French plywood in Belize.

                      I just searched for "greenmother web ranking." Guess what? Not found on as many pages as I cared to look through. If I google myself, I find that I'm an early 20th century painter of Egyptian antiquities. This me is about 100 or so pages back in the search rankings.

                      OTOH, if I type in "site dailykos.com: greenmother web rankings", your diary is the #1 hit. Congratulations! So it's just about knowing how. But that also tells us that dK gets visited very often, probably several times/day. That's because of all the incoming links and the quality of the management. No page is an orphan here, but that happens all the time to managers who don't understand how it works.

                      People wish to be settled, only as far as they are unsettled is there any hope for them. - Emerson

                      by CarbonFiberBoy on Sat Nov 17, 2012 at 12:00:47 PM PST

                      [ Parent ]

                      •  I still don't think you understand what I am (0+ / 0-)

                        getting at. I do appreciate the time and effort that you took to make your point.

                        If I accept what you said, then it still points to Google searches leading me away from the material I was searching for, because it reacted to my search content/parameters in a manner that is not conducive to "giving me what I want", in that moment.

                        I will say that another savvy friend has informed me that some companies have learned how to game Google's algorithmns at different times, so perhaps it wasn't Google but someone who sought to profit from this short stint of gaming the search engines.

                        Whatever.

                        I saw something very unusual. I hope I never see it again, especially not to the magnitude that I witnessed.

              •  I am hitting the sack, so if you reply again, (0+ / 0-)

                I don't want you to think I am ignoring you.

                Thank you for taking the time to have an exchange over this matter.

  •  If I'm looking for scholarly papers... (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    GreenMother

    I filter the results to just .PDF files.  Much of the crap is in html.

    Thanks for the duckduckgo.com tip.  I do believe I will replace Google as my home page.  "Evil" pisses me off.

    "First they ignore you, then they laugh at you, then they fight you, then you win". Mohandas K. Gandhi

    by DaveinBremerton on Fri Nov 16, 2012 at 07:33:37 PM PST

  •   I was thinking back to the part that really set (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    lotlizard

    the tone for this emotional rawness associated with this event, so I dug some stuff up using DuckDuckgo.com

    This story from Natural
    News,
    is covering material that was also reported by Rachel Maddow and
    Anderson 360 about censorship and other issues.


    Here
    is a story with regards to an incident involving a ProPublica journalist being
    harassed.

    The author of this story just comes right out and says, conspiracy. It was
    certainly a word I saw used amongst people online who lived in the Gulf of
    Mexico at the time, and given some of the videos that made the rounds from the
    Gulf at the time, I can see how that would be considered a reasonable
    conclusion. Lets' face it, Americans don't like being told no, and they don't
    care for being manhandled or surveilled without probable cause.

    Keep in mind, these are US citizens, who are terrified. Their entire livelihoods lay in the balance here, the air is foul, thick with stink from the spill and the burnings, and the dead animals and corexit, some folks are already starting to fall ill, there was the incidents with black rain and what was later proven to be aerosolized oil and dispersant blowing in the wind.

    I found this little video particularly enlightening.

    Throw in intimidation tactics by the government and the people who work for the company that created this spill, and I believe that the response and suspicion  by Gulf residence were entirely warranted. I know it pissed me off watching this unfold from afar. The heartfelt videos and stories coming out of the Gulf by residents, were raising anger in other parts of America and the world. The Boycott BP movement was quite successful, enough that station owners switched franchises because they could not sell gasoline via the BP franchise.

    Attempts to silence these attempts by Gulf Residents, to reach out to their counterparts in other states, was a PR strategy, perhaps to remove the fuel--information that angered people like me, who took direct actions ranging from boycotting BP, to writing and contacting elected representatives, and spreading the first hand accounts of these people, to as many forums as possible.

    At one point, the best source regarding events in the Gulf of Mexico was Al Jazeera.

    If I haven't said it lately, thank you Al Jazeera for standing in, during a time when information on this matter seemed to have been very difficult to acquire. The story linked to above was last updated in 2012.

    These are a sample of the stories that contextualized this event for me, and the anger I had at the difficulty at finding what I considered pertinent information during that period of time, when it was, for whatever reason, unavailable.

  •  which bubble are you in? (0+ / 0-)

    So I tried the robert howarth search and the BP Horizon search on both google and Bing.
    After the(two) ads and the expected Wikipedia page
    • the Howarth search returns a wide collection of other results, as might be expected from such a controversial result.
    • The BP result returns a vast majority of genuine discussions of the issue, although PR Wire gets an unexpected boost in Google.

    So: no bubble here, although I agree the search engines need better defense against PR, spam, and general bullshit. (As a Bing guy, take it from me: this is a very hard problem.)

    Bubbles are a real problem, both in knowledge and in economics. But search results, mostly, aren't one of them. At least, not yet.
    PS: if you really care about these cases, you can do one of the following:
    • buy your own ad. For most searches, ads are cheap.
    • add links to credible pages, such as local newspapers, scientific results, etc. Truthout and other ideological sites won't do. (To my conservative friends: neither will fox news, WND, or WSJ opinion pages.)

    Modern Republicans talk about Government being the problem, not the solution. What they don't tell you is they mean it as a campaign promise.

    by p mac on Fri Nov 16, 2012 at 11:38:27 PM PST

    •  A lot of good (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      GreenMother

      points being made here by people experienced in online marketing and I agree.  

      Perhaps the most significant point that was being made, at least, the one I derived, is that the search results are indeed skewed in Google.  It is skewed by advetising dollars and sound strategy.  

      Most Google users are not sophisitcated. Their perceptions can be, and are shaped by the early results they find in "The Google".

      As you exhort people to "just buy your own ad" to produce the results you want, you are actually reinforcing the idea that the Google front page is for sale.  That's fine, if you like that.  Many of the posters here are troubled by the commercial nature of the transaction.

       It is good to have a diary to make all of us think about these issues. We definitely need to have this discussion.

      Using multiple search engines is always a good idea.  ;-)

    •  Pmac, What happened to me, was over a short (0+ / 0-)

      duration of time in 2010, which corresponded with the most heated interactions between locals and officials in the Gulf of Mexico shortly after Google sold it's key word search to BP. So your results with regards to BP now wouldn't surprise me at all.

      What bothered me is that I observed that this was possible, and if I correctly identified the nature of this event, then it could conceivably happen again.

      Google censors China and Tibet, and some Near Eastern Feeds, and we have the Filter Bubble, so what I observed in this context isn't something that is wildly impossible or even improbable.

      And it does bring up this notion, that perhaps Google hasn't taken their inadvertent role as a feed for the Fourth Estate in a serious manner, over their desire to be profitable. And ditto with all the citizens who have relied on Google for non-biased results they can count on, especially during a national or regional crisis.

  •  Don't Be Evil is not and never was officially the (0+ / 0-)

    Don't Be Evil is not and never was officially the Google motto.  

    From the Wikipedia entry you will get more info, but for me the most interesting part of this story is that the phrase was used in official capacity during the 2004 IPO in the prospectus as the "Don't Be Evil Manifesto"

    "Don’t be evil. We believe strongly that in the long term, we will be better served — as shareholders and in all other ways — by a company that does good things for the world even if we forgo some short term gains."
    That says to me that they understand the "we're all in this together" reality that we live in.  Not many companies have that ideology.  

    There's a much larger debate/discussion going on around Don't Be Evil but these theories regarding search result manipulation are akin to conservatives claiming that the election polls are skewed.

    In the beginning of a change the patriot is a scarce man, and brave, and hated and scorned. When his cause succeeds, the timid join him, for then it costs nothing to be a patriot. - Samuel Langhorne Clemens aka Mark Twain

    by Dr Seuss on Sat Nov 17, 2012 at 07:21:18 AM PST

    •  So, do you accept the videos and accounts of (0+ / 0-)

      OWs protesters regarding the antics of some local and state governments who worked with Homeland Security? Or are they all conservatives too, moaning with their tin foil hats on too tight?

      And if you personally see something wrong, do you speak up, or do you avoid the discussion out of fear of being stigmatized?

      •  uhm... (1+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        GreenMother

        what does any of that have to do with google?

        In the beginning of a change the patriot is a scarce man, and brave, and hated and scorned. When his cause succeeds, the timid join him, for then it costs nothing to be a patriot. - Samuel Langhorne Clemens aka Mark Twain

        by Dr Seuss on Sat Nov 17, 2012 at 11:05:03 AM PST

        [ Parent ]

        •  Well it's like there is this idea, that we have to (0+ / 0-)

          choose the correct theme, when becoming suspicious of any given entity.

          I choose something you agree with, as bad or suspicious, then I am thoughtful and insightful, but if I choose something you don't agree with, I fall from grace and become a paranoid member of whatever group you perceive to be a political rival, and/or is beneath your contempt.

          Is that a good way or a bad way to have a discussion about the events that transpired?

          Something quite out of the ordinary happened during a time when there was an active media blackout of that particular subject. When there were boycott groups online being censored by facebook as well, and during a time when people were being hassled--well know media personalities I might add, were being hassled and blocked from reporting on events on the ground.

          This all transpired together, and all revolved around the same topic.

          Tell me how you think, I should label this, when I am unable to find adequate, reasonable, harmless explanations for the things I witnessed in this context?

          •  sounds like you have fallen prey to (0+ / 0-)

            a common logical fallacy: correlation does not imply causation
            aka: cum hoc ergo propter hoc

            i understand your concerns and i don't disagree that there was a so-called media blackout, but where you're going in regards to google is pretty thin CT ice, imho

            read wikipedia's Criticism of Google page to get an idea for the reality-based criticisms

            ps: being generally agnostic i'm always open to new information and evidence & i'm not saying 100% you're wrong but (like nate silver) i'm 99% certain you're on the wrong track in this instance

            In the beginning of a change the patriot is a scarce man, and brave, and hated and scorned. When his cause succeeds, the timid join him, for then it costs nothing to be a patriot. - Samuel Langhorne Clemens aka Mark Twain

            by Dr Seuss on Wed Nov 21, 2012 at 12:52:57 PM PST

            [ Parent ]

            •  Well Dr Seuss, it is my own fault (0+ / 0-)

              I didn't study code back in the day. I chose an unworthy course study, the Humanities. So when this crisis arose, I was unable to do much but complain. I lacked the foundational knowledge to capture the evidence, I am such a mark, I still do not know how to do a screen shot.

              I know searching. I know reading, I know keywords, and agencies, and libraries, and archives. I know virtually no code. It seems the computer and all programers everywhere have me by the short hairs.

              So you can choose not to believe me. I cannot fault you.

              I read as much as I could on Page Ranking Systems, Spiders, Bots, TERPs SERPs, and anything else I could get my hands on at that time in 2010, til my eyes bled it seemed, while simultaneously working many times harder to stay on top of what was going on in the Gulf.

              It sucked.

              I wish it weren't true. I wish I could go back to not worrying about the innate character and function of "search engines," but I can't.

              I wish I had someway to give you irrefutable proof, but I don't. See explanation above.

              I didn't fall for anything. I was shoved. Something very strange and frightening happened where I could see it.
              But be that as it may, it's the eve before Thanksgiving, and I hope that this isn't something that has to become between me and others.

              This will be my crazy virtual UFO sighting, and that's that.

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