End of the month time, so I checked the stats for the site, see how many people have been stumbling across my deathless prose – or, more likely, doing a Google Images search for dubious pictures [Hey, hits are hits, right?] Normally, there’s about 200-300 per day, not really varying too much. But then I looked at the graph for February…
That’s not a mistake. On February 21st, we got 254 visitors. On February 22nd, we had 20,276. That would be a 7,883% increase over the previous day. To put the total into some kind of context, we had just over 17,100 in the entire last quarter of 2010. Now, we suddenly had that many in a single day. WTF. No, seriously: WTF?
My first thought was that we’d been hacked, and that someone had injected some kind of mass phishing scam into our page content, harvesting credit-card details for the Eastern European mafia – and without even the courtesy of a percentage or two in kickback. However, nothing seemed to have changed on the site. It took a little bit of detective work, but I was finally able to track down the piece responsible for the massve spike in traffic. However, this simply raised as many questions as it answered: why was our Incredibly Bad Film Show review of Thunder and Mudsuddenly a hot topic on the Internet?
The reason appears to be, because that piece was one of the top searches on Google at the time for Jessica Hahn. If you’ve forgotten who Hahn was, she was the model/actress/whatever who, in 1987, brought down televangelist Jim Bakker, then head of The PTL Club, by alleging that Bakker had drugged and raped her a few years previously, when she was working as a church secretary, and had been paid off by Bakker to keep quiet. Big thing at the time – Hahn parlayed the notoriety into a Playboy pictorial, an appearance on Married With Children and… Yep, as one of the hosts in the combo heavy-metal/mud wrestling extravaganza which was Thunder and Mud.
Fast-forward 13 years, and we post our review; fast-forward a further eight, and it suddenly becomes relevant, as Hahn turns up again on The View, a morning talk-show on ABC hosted by, among others, Barbara Walters. The two women spar, with Hahn pointing out her relationship with Bakker wasn’t an “affair”, and trying to contrast it with Walters’ relationship with married U.S. senator Edward Brooke. A fair point – not that Walters was having any of it, of course. Let’s go to the tape…
There you have it. Boom. 20,000 visitors to the site, triggered by that. It probably didn’t even count as 15 minutes of fame; probably nearer 2-3. But it’s a powerful example of how the Internet [or, at least, Google] never forgets; things can lie dormant in its tubes for years, before suddenly being relevant, albeit very briefly. Our article blazed a burning trail across the information superhighway, before fading back into the obscurity from whence it came, and our site goes back to serving a couple of hundred visitors per day. Kinda cool.
[And this article continues to be the gift that keeps on giving (page views, at least!). A slightly smaller spike – a mere 3,500 visitors in a day, about ten times normal traffic – showed up on October 22, 2012. Not quite sure of the reason for this one. If I’d to guess, it might be a result of the scandal surrounding the CIA chief, but that’s just a guess.]
If you use Google – and, let’s face it, who doesn’t – you’ll have noticed the new Google Instant feature. Previously, nothing would happen as you typed in your search terms, until you hit ‘Enter’. Then, you got the results. Now, if you have the feature enabled [and, personally, I’ve turned it off], as soon as you start typing, the rest of the page fills up with search results. So, if you were typing in “Trash City” say, here are the top results you get:
T – Target.com
Tr – Travelocity.com
Tra – Travelocity.com
Tras – The “Trash” entry on Wikipedia
Trash – The “Trash” entry on Wikipedia
Trash C – TrashCanCentral.com
Trash Ci – Ah, there we are! [Well, our bead store, anyway.]
However, there are quite a number of topics on which Google Instant Search refuses to express an opinion…
As 2600.com put it, “Somewhere within Google there exists a master list of “bad words” and evil concepts that Google Instant is programmed to not act upon, lest someone see something offensive in the instant results.” Here’s an obvious example. Type in “dog” with a space after it, and you get many helpful suggestions on naming your dog. But do the same thing with “bitch”. You go through Bank of America, Bing, Bittorrent and Bitcomet – but as soon as you type that H, Google Instant does the cyber-equivalent of screaming and running away.
I can kinda see the point. You’re looking for information on sextuplets, and three letters into your search, you’re heading off in an entirely different direction. Except, that one doesn’t actually work. You have to go from Sears, into the Sex and the City homepage and the Wikipedia article on sexting, before mercifully, you hit the U and can enjoy pieces on multiple bir… What? Where have the search results gone? Yep. Google remains dumb for “sextu” and “sextup” before finally kicking back in at “sextupl.” I guess it’s then clear what you’re looking for – y’know, as opposed to all the other words beginning “sextup”.
The obvious response was made by Google, that it’s “to protect the children” – the longtime rallying cry of irrational censorship advocates everywhere. Certainly, I imagine that typing rude words into the search engine is part of growing up, in the same way that looking them up in the dictionary used to be. But, really, after you type in v-a-g-i, where exactly does Google imagine you are going? And, of course, the results Google deem too horrific to show you in real time, are available at any point with a click of the enter button.
Some of the results are amusing. “Latino” is ok; “Latina” is not. Neither is “lesbian,” but “homosexual” is fine. Apparently this is not because the words themselves are bad, but what previous Google users typically follow them up with, leads to results deemed inappropriate for display to maiden aunts. This makes sense, albeit in a “thoroughly pointless” kind of way. However, some of the other cases of censorship are just completely baffling. Type in “rul” and Google has nothing to offer as an instant search, and I can’t imagine anything offensive that could follow it. I guess the owners of Google must have had a horrific experience at the Irish pub in Tempe I know, Rula Bula.
There are a lot of political and religious implications, and it’s interesting where Google draws the line. It has nothing to offer if you type in “Catholics are” – but type in “Protestants are,” and they have a lot to say. Indeed, all the topics offered as auto-completions could be seen as offensive: Protestants are wrong, going to hell, heretics and not Christians, according to Google’s helpful suggestions. If those are deemed to be okay, I’m not sure what the “Catholics are” completions could be. “Black power” is okay. “White power,” however, is not.
Sometimes, it flat out contradicts itself. Type in “how to kil”, and the search results are there, Google helpfully suggesting at the top, “Did you mean how to kill”. However, add another l, and the search results vanish, as soon as Google realizes that, yes, you did mean “how to kill”. Even more bizarrely, type a space – going on with your original query, about how to kill time – everything returns to normal, the search results beginning with hints on getting rid of scorpions. Ah, so it’s just generic killing Google objects to. As long as you’re specific about it, no problem. And from what, exactly, are Google trying to protect a child who is typing “how to kill” in?
It’s so lame that it probably doesn’t even qualify as censorship, since you are no more than a click away from seeing all the results Google won’t show you. It’s just the equivalent of a momentary stab of parental disapproval, to remind you that you probably shouldn’t be typing that into the search engine, before Google relents and shows you all that stuff you were looking for anyway. Perhaps the most amusing thing is that, somewhere in its labyrinthine lair, they have an employee tasked with ensuring the world is kept safe from accidentally typing in the Japanese word for “hermaphrodite”…
Here are ten of my favorite terms that are blacklisted by Google Instant Search, and return no results:
futanari – just so you don’t accidentally type in the Japanese word for hermaphrodite. Never say this wasn’t a learning experience. The English word for hermaphrodite? Perfectly acceptable by Instant Search.
Phillip K Dick stories – “dick” appears to be the problem here. See also – or rather, don’t – “Dick van Dyke” or “Dick Barton.” Dick Cheney is okay though.
Pamela Anderson – merely the most-downloaded celebrity on the Internet, but as far as Instant Search is concerned, she doesn’t exist.
Twinkie – Add Hostess Snack Cakes to the list of those who have offended the almighty Google. Yes, I know there is another meaning of the term, but is it actually more prevalent than the creme-filled confection?
hooker – escort is also blocked. Curiously, “prostitute” is just fine, as is the considerably-less PC “whore.”
women rapping – “men rapping” is fine. On the other hand…
men wrapping – “women wrapping” is fine. The only thing I can think of, is that Google is protecting the really. really bad child spellers of the world from themselves.
Smells Like Teen Spirit – speaking of music, one of the classic songs of the 90’s is blacklisted. Contrast Wikipedia, where “Smells” is enough to get the song to the top of the list. Mind you, Instant Search blacklists pretty much “teen” anything, though I’m surprised “spirit” is covered.
Octopussy – yeah, it wasn’t a very good James Bond film, but still…
Google suc – wonder what they’re thinking people are looking for here?
Feel free to check out the entire blacklist discovered so far. NFSW due to language – well, duh…