Is Google bombing unethical?

Recently, in my strategic social media class, we discussed the “Amazon Fail” crisis of April, 2009. For those who don’t know, last spring Amazon began classifying books with homosexual themes as “adult,” which erased their status on rank lists. The public outrage manifested through Twitter, aggregated by the hashtag #amazonfail. Those leading the movement to boycott Amazon encouraged “Google bombing.” According to Wikipedia, the terms “Google bomb” or “Googlewashing” refer to “practices intended to influence the ranking of particular pages in results returned by the Google search engine in order to increase the likelihood of people finding and clicking on selections in which the individual or other entity engaging in this practice is interested.” In this case, angry authors and their supporters wanted the website “smartbitchestrashybooks” to be the first listing found when searching “Amazon” on Google.

In the middle of this discussion, some fellow classmates tweeted that Google bombing is never ethical. This struck me as odd, as I found nothing unethical about the disgruntled Amazonfail movement Google bombing Amazon. I think that this situation illuminates a gray area. In some cases, Google bombing is certainly unethical. I believe that if it is a strategic, public relations-driven initiative to drive traffic away or to an organization or mislead the public, then that is unethical. It is unethical because it is taking advantage of and abusing influential channels like Google in a dishonest and shady way. It erodes transparent and honest public relations.

However, in the case of Amazon, it was an authentic groundswell of discontent expressing frustration through digital channels. I find nothing unethical about this. In fact, I find this case to be rather democratic. Transparent and authentic Grassroots strategies and tactics to express discontent online are no more unethical than those that exist in the offline world.

Thoughts? Do you think it is unethical? Always? Sometimes? Never?

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2 Responses to Is Google bombing unethical?

  1. Pat Lampton says:

    Your observations on the Vatican and the church remined me of a conversation with my brother when we were in Beijing. We were in Tiananmen Square looking at the iconic portrait of Mao that hangs on the outside of the Forbidden City. I asked Mike how a country could still venerate a person who had killed so many of his own people. Mike’s reply was that the Chinese looked upon him has having been about 70% good on balance. I thought that, at least in part, that was a positive way to look at things and in contrast to our way of looking for the slightest thing and being at the ready to tear our leaders apart…almost like sport. This isn’t to condone the bad that the Church has engaged in but not to condemn them wholly and ignore some of the good.

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