April 25, 2005

CNN Blog spam Google conspiracy theory (Nancy Grace)

(sorry, old net.joke)

There's an accusation going around that CNN is engaging in a viral guerilla marking campaign, also involving lowering the Google rank of blogs which criticize CNN. See for example the coverage at MetaFilter and Wonkette

Ouch. This is taking normal net strangeness, and turning it into a convoluted double-backed conspiracy theory that's straight out of a spy novel. The accusation is that CNN is spamming blogs. But then not only are they spamming blogs, they are engaging in a sophisticated Google attack designed to lower the rank of posts critical of CNN, by introducing spam into the comment stream. Oh, and the evidence for this involves in part that CNN sent press releases to well-read blogs during the attacks on CNN executive Eason Jordan.

Google, blogs, spam, CNN ... or was that Russia, KGB, terrorists, NYT? (maybe these days, Iraq, Al-Qaeda, WMD, Dan Rather).

After spending too much time looking through the evidence, it's pretty clearly one guy who has a slightly askew take on CNN's Nancy Grace. The keyword-stuffing technique that's supposed to spam-poison the comments is there because the spammer thinks it helps his spam. Not as a devious rank-lowering trojan-horse. The proof, to the expert eye, is that some spam keywords are structured the way an amateur would think would matter in search (plus sign preceding the word). But a professional search engine optimizer would never bother doing it (of course, it could be a professional cleverly faking being an amateur ...) But a journalist reporting on this wouldn't see the difference.

Of course, this post isn't going to be heard enough to do any good sad face.

[Update 5/5, to more clearly explain my interpretation (thanks for the link, Dan): There's someone who has been spamming a few blogs which discuss CNN, with his message critical of Nancy Grace. As he does this, he gets the (to him) "bright idea" that if he adds a bunch of keywords to his comment, it will rank better in searches. So he adds (here is a key point) keywords. He creates these keywords working from various ways searches are done, which sometimes requires a plus-sign before a word in order to require that word to appear in the search. This would not be the thinking of an elaborate anti-optimization attack.

The net is filled with people who go around and spam blogs to get their message heard, with various degrees of skill at it. So by the saying "When you hear hoofbeats, think of horses before zebras", when you see weird spam, think marginal people before elaborate PR campaigns. It's a much better fit. ]

By Seth Finkelstein | posted in spam | on April 25, 2005 11:59 PM (Infothought permalink)
Seth Finkelstein's Infothought blog (Wikipedia, Google, censorware, and an inside view of net-politics) - Syndicate site (subscribe, RSS)

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My message as put to his blog:


I cannot be sure about the origins of the comment, but I would guess that it does not originate from CNN.

If it did originate from CNN, they would not be spamming sites such as http://jenrae.typepad.com/index/2005/01/headline_news__2.html that are not overly critical of them.

I would like to propose that this comment in fact originates from a misguided soul who really hates Nancy Grace and hoped to spread the message about how much he hates the new CNN Headline News by spamming a bunch of keywords within his message. This explains why he searched for "cnn blog" or whatever and pasted his message into every comments screen he could find. This guy probably does not understand that search engines can detect such spam.

It's somewhat of a tinfoil theory to say that CNN is attacking blogs-- plus, that sort of tactic would reflect badly on them if they were found out.

Yours sincerely, Anonymous

Posted by: Anonymous at April 26, 2005 09:58 AM

From two of the early spams I found, the page rank had lowered to zero. In your opinion, then, that was coicidence, and google will just ignore the keywords stuck together as though they don't exist? My concern is that those keywords are so badly done, as to purposefully set off googles filters to lower the page rank. From my understanding, and the little amount of research I've been able to get on pages that have gotten this spam, that seems to be the only explanation(only 3, the 4th which didn't follow the pattern I had expected). Also, who tries to boost the rank of their comments anyhow? If you have any more info on this, please don't hesitate to send me an instant message through AIM: NickLewisATX. In addition, my e-mail is netpolitik[at the]hotmail[to the]com

Posted by: Nick Lewis at April 27, 2005 10:46 PM