How Big Companies and Politicians Bury Search Results They Don't Like

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NPR's Peter O'Dowd has a disturbing report on the business of burying search results. When I think of search optimization, I tend to think of finding ways to direct Google towards your own content. But O'Dowd's piece looks at the other end of the business: hiding the stuff you don't want to see. The SEO specialists he talks with recommend creating "a barrage of new websites promoting positive content" to push things farther down Google's search rankings. In essence, O'Dowd writes, "Free speech on the Internet increasingly comes down to who's able to pay for it, and which company is willing to manipulate the listings." Here's a longer excerpt:

According to the digital media research firm eMarketer, search optimization -- and suppression -- is a $2 billion industry. Prominent public companies including BP and Toyota spend fortunes in an effort to keep negative press about oil spills or faulty brakes far away from the first page of a Google search.

"It is an absolute game changer, and a fundamental piece of marketing for any company out there," says Jon Kaufman, a senior vice president at the search optimizer Zog Media. He says this industry is about who controls the message.

Ben Quayle, the son of former Vice President Dan Quayle, is a Republican candidate running for Congress in Arizona. Type Ben Quayle's name into Google and it's impossible to miss negative postings about the candidate's racy contributions to an adult website called Dirty Scottsdale... A few weeks ago, the dirt on Quayle was actually higher in the search results than his campaign website. And that is a case of brand management failure, according to search experts.

Read the full story at NPR.

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Alexis C. Madrigal

Alexis Madrigal is the deputy editor of TheAtlantic.com. He's the author of Powering the Dream: The History and Promise of Green Technology. More

The New York Observer has called Madrigal "for all intents and purposes, the perfect modern reporter." He co-founded Longshot magazine, a high-speed media experiment that garnered attention from The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, and the BBC. While at Wired.com, he built Wired Science into one of the most popular blogs in the world. The site was nominated for best magazine blog by the MPA and best science website in the 2009 Webby Awards. He also co-founded Haiti ReWired, a groundbreaking community dedicated to the discussion of technology, infrastructure, and the future of Haiti.

He's spoken at Stanford, CalTech, Berkeley, SXSW, E3, and the National Renewable Energy Laboratory, and his writing was anthologized in Best Technology Writing 2010 (Yale University Press).

Madrigal is a visiting scholar at the University of California at Berkeley's Office for the History of Science and Technology. Born in Mexico City, he grew up in the exurbs north of Portland, Oregon, and now lives in Oakland.

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