Google-bombing candidates: All is fair in love, war and politics

Candidates in next month's mid-term elections may soon be seeing old skeletons popping up in Google searches for their names, a modern-day mud-slinging effort to to sway undecided voters away from particular candidates.

Can a Google search impact an election?

With the Republican party divided and the Democratic party desperate to hold on to any resemblance of power in Washington, the campaigning for next month's mid-term elections has taken an ugly turn.  Part of that turn, according to a post on Politico, involves the manipulation of Google results for a candidate's name.

The idea is simple: get enough people to blog about and link back to unfavorable stories about a candidate - even if it's something like a years-old small-town scandal that went unnoticed by the national press - so that the algorithms used by Google will push that link to the top of the search results for that candidate's name. Then, when an undecided voter searches for the candidate's name, the first few links are news reports that the candidates would prefer to leave in the past.

For now, the latest Google-bomb targets are on the backs of nearly 100 Republican candidates that Chris Bowers, campaign director for the Daily Kos, has identified and tied to unfavorable news coverage across a range of topics. Has it been effective? A quick search on a dozen or so candidate's names on Bowers' list of links didn't really produce any damaging results. Then again, the real mud-slinging and election desperation is just kicking in. We're two weeks away from election day. From the Politico post:

(Bowers) sees the campaign as a 21st century version of pamphleteering: Daily Kos readers are simply providing informational materials that are already out there in the same way that volunteers would hand out information to voters on the street.

When you put it like that, how is it any different from a candidate pulling headlines and excerpts from news stories to highlight the shortcomings of his or her opponent? I saw more commercials like that than I care to see just watching the first half of Monday Night Football tonight and sifted through a half-dozen flyers in my mailbox today.

Republicans being targeted so far haven't retaliated - but Google could soon become the battleground for a tight election. Politico spoke to Mindy Finn, a co-founder of EngageDC, a conservative digital campaign consulting firm that is working on about a dozen congressional races. Finn told Politico that she's advised people to either ignore the effort or get even if they'd like. She said:

I think the tactic stinks of desperation. However, I think that all’s fair in love, war, and political campaigns, and as long as there is an equal and fair playing field, there are no boundaries.

When it comes to playing fields, it doesn't get more equal than the Internet. The tools are there for anyone to use.