Two ways the ‘completely wrong’ story is completely wrong

You know exactly what I’m talking about. Or if for some reason you don’t, go search Google images for ‘completely wrong’ before you continue. But that was unnecessary, because as I said, you already know exactly what I’m talking about.

To the points.

Here’s some media coverage of the incident:

‘Completely wrong’ Romney Google bombs himself – Sydney Morning Herald

Has Romney been Google bombed? – Technorati

‘Completely wrong’: Mitt Romney just Google bombed himself – The Province

Did ‘Completely Wrong’ Romney Google bomb himself? – Network World

[And so on…]

Here’s the first problem: ‘completely wrong’ is not a Google bomb. Yes, this point will turn on a technicality, but it will also allow me to discuss something interesting pointed out to me by ChaiGev (and yes, if you know him, you probably want to check out that link).

A Google bomb is deliberate. But Romney’s current crisis is not the result of any manipulation of search results by political forces or by Google, as some have alleged. The images simply shot to the top because stories including the phrase ‘completely wrong’ were concerned almost-exclusively with Romney and his remarks on the 47% of freeloading, irresponsible Americans.

And in case – for some reason – you wanted evidence, I present to you the interesting part.

Reports of the ‘completely wrong’ incident have changed significantly since they first began to surface. Here’s an early screenshot of a Google image search for the key words:

And here’s what the exact same search turns up now:

Yes, there’s still lots of Romney. But notice anything different?

More Romney! Romney inside of Romney. Romney over Romney. 10 Romneys in place of every one Romney.

As media coverage intensified, the original – natural – search results were replaced by other – natural – search results, this time of the coverage itself. Where ‘completely wrong’ stories had once been about Romney, they were replaced by others about Google. Thanks to the feedback loop, the story literally became the story.

And the search results reflect that, as they reflected the story before that.

For anyone keeping track at home, the first image contains 11 images of Mitt Romney. The second: almost too many to count, thanks to a beautiful Droste effect – or as I knew it until ChaiGev supplied me with the proper term, Stephen Colbert’s portrait:

The second media mistake has less to do with the technical meaning of the term ‘Google bomb’ than with comparisons between ‘completely wrong’ and what happens when you Google Santorum (do not try this at home, or anywhere else).

In that case,  people who wanted to learn about ‘Santorum’ were instead given a lesson in… something else. In other words, people who wanted to learn about a specific thing instead learned about something they had not intended to learn about.

In this case – yes, it’s funny, and it looks bad, and everybody’s shared it all over the Facebook and the Twitter and whatever other social media the kids use these days – I’m skeptical that anyone is searching ‘completely wrong’ for the sake of learning about the phrase and finding something they didn’t expect.

More specifically, I’m fairly confident that no one has been searching Google images for that phrase for any reason other than someone told them to, or to stir up trouble. Which is certainly fun – but in a whole different ballpark from what happened to Santorum.

When a search for ‘Romney’ turns up something interesting, get back to me. Until then, this is funny, but it’s not a Google bomb.


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