I had noticed that every time I saw Nathan Deal’s name on the Internet I also saw a Google ad or an article about his ethics. Deal is the GOP’s candidate for governor of Georgia against Democrat Roy Barnes, a former governor of the state. Polls show the contest to be close.
I just read an article that makes sense of the proximity of Deal’s name and the word “ethics.” Angered by Deal’s assaults on homosexual rights in the primary campaign, Seth Woodard Persily, a gay father of two and professional expert on Internet reputation-building (and evidently destroying), set out to settle the score.
During his time in Congress, the ethics committee was looking into a relatively minor business dealing by Deal, who resigned to run for governor before any action was taken. In an election year, mountains are made with less.
So Persily had something to work with. Atlanta Journal-Constitution political pundit Jim Galloway wrote:
Going after Deal was something new for Persily. “I’ve never tried to harm someone’s reputation. This is a first for us,” he said. “We’ve always been in the business of cleaning people’s reputations up.”
What Persily has targeted is not the hyperlinked search results you get after punching the words “Nathan Deal” into Google. Given the search engine’s secret algorithms, manipulation of those results is nearly impossible. Persily has attempted something slightly more subtle.
When you type any search term into Google, the search engine immediately suggests a number of additional words. Whenever “Nathan Deal” is now typed into a Google search panel, the first suggested word is “ethics.” Second is “vs. Karen Handel.” And third is “bio.” Anyone who accepts Google’s first suggestion will be offered page after page of articles about an investigation conducted by the Office of Congressional Ethics into allegations that, as a congressman, Deal pressured state officials to protect a private salvage business in which he was a partner.
Persily and a dozen Georgia volunteers have employed two tactics. Across the Internet, they have posted dozens of articles, dozens of times, in dozens of places, that include the words “ethics” and “Nathan Deal.” The articles don’t have to be about Deal. They don’t even have to be read. They just have to include the name of the north Georgia congressman, and the word “ethics.”
Welcome to political dirty tricks in the Internet age. It’s the nastiness of politics–seen since the beginning of the republic–in the Google world. Search engine optimization at its dirtiest.
Seems like everyone should know. I hope someone googles this.