How I learned to love the Google-bomb
Source: New Scientist
Date: Mar 2, 2011
By: Sally Adee
Link: Online story

Hell hath no fury. Last month, a scorned woman uploaded a picture of her ex-boyfriend to a website that lets users add humorous captions to pictures (much like this one). Most people use these sites to make goofy LOLcats, but she used it to generate dozens of images of her hapless ex, accompanied by an impressively wide selection of unflattering comments. “To be or not to be? LOLJK I can’t read” said one.

It got worse for her target: blog after blog picked up on her handiwork, reposting the images and ensuring that they soon featured at the top of Google’s image search results for his name. That spurred on yet more sites to write about the story (and post the pictures), most of them suggesting a moral for the story: Don’t mess with someone who knows how to build a Google-bomb.

You can even prime the bomb yourself – as US Congressman Chris Lee found out just before Valentine’s Day. Inexplicably, the married official decided it’d be a good idea to snap himself flexing his muscles – without a shirt on – and send the resulting candid picture to a new acquaintance on Craigslist. Inevitably, that picture now represents about half of his Google image search results. Even more inevitably, Chris Lee is now looking for a new job.

Even if you’ve never been Google-bombed, your image results are likely still to be a surreal mess. Top-ranking results for my name, for example, include a white bucket, a satellite dish, and, inexplicably, a man holding up his hand – thumb and pinkie extended – in the international “call me” symbol.

“Google Images isn’t that great yet,” says Michael Fertik, chief executive of, which helps people to gain control over their online identities. “In fact, it seems to be one of their more rudimentary technologies.” That’s why images haven’t been a big focus for Google-bombers to date – although we can expect copyright crimes to proliferate as the idea catches on and image search improves.

So how can you clean up your image search results? Fertik says you can burnish your image results in pretty much the same way as for your regular web search results – a subject I’ve learnt a lot about thanks to my recent attempt to clean up my own disastrous Google results.

The key is to maintain your presence on massive social sites like Facebook or LinkedIn, which have better “Google juice” than random websites. Upload the pictures you want, ensuring your name features in accompanying text, tags and captions. Here’s a handy flow-chart of how to go about it:

Flow chart how to clean up disasttrous google images search results


There’s only so far that you can take this approach. Google will (eventually) frown on any concerted attempt to build a bomb that flatters you. And if the internet’s out to get you, you probably have no place to hide. Fertik says his company has never before had to defend an image-based smear campaign.

“I’d be interested to know if Chris Lee calls us,” he says. “I’d want to take it on just as a science project.” Ex-Congressman Lee, you know where to call.