As many of you regular readers here may know, I have been quite active in the DJ blogosphere of late on both the Google and Iran human rights fronts. On that note, allow me to express my deepest thanks and gratitude to David Silverberg, Chris Hogg, the rest of the Wild West Media DJ crew, and all of you fine readers here at DJ for selecting my blog post, Please Help Turn Google Green and Support Iranians on Valentine's Day, as one of only two of this past week's TopFinds blog selections. I know how talented and fierce the competition is. But even more than that, I thank you all for your incredible support of that petition, which generated a stunning 1000+ Facebook Likes and God only knows how many signatures here at DJ. An Iranian activist and I worked very long and hard on that petition, driven by the support of hundreds of Iranians on Facebook who were inspired by the idea.
"Amir" (a nom de guerre for obvious reasons) was also most happy and grateful to Digital Journal for the TopFinds honor. Most Iranians these days will take any kind of cheer from whatever source they can find, as there is so little of it to be found in these dark days for their beloved yet troubled Persian homeland. Unfortunately, things didn't turn out nearly as well for us with Google and the 2000-plus signature petition as I, Amir and well over a thousand Iranians had hoped, to say the least. And even though that last linked blog post on apparent Google indifference to all those voices has been hovering in the Top Three for the past two days, even reigning supreme as Top Blog at DJ for more than a day, it is a blog I would much rather not have written. I would have much preferred writing a most cheerful and inspiring blog about how Google changed its logo color to green, inspiring so many in desperate need of any inspiration at all. I need not tread old ground here, as both linked blogs are still holding their own on the Top Blogs page and many of you may already know all the details.
What I am here today to present to you are some rather startling Butterfly Effect-like developments since that have stemmed directly from the submission of the petition Google-wide, and Google's subsequent dead silence regarding it for well over a week. To be clear, it is not so much that I felt spurned or was offended by Google's non-response to the dozens of email blasts, voice mails and Google Facebook wall posts I had made to elicit a response to the petition. Google is free to ignore me or change its logo color or not. They are under no obligation whatsoever to pay me any mind at all. But Amir and I petitioned Google on behalf of nearly 2000 brave Iranian signatories, some of whom have since had harrowing brushes with the basij during post-protest college dorm raids and barely escaped with their lives. Some we can no longer contact and fear for their safety. So it meant a great deal to us that those voices be heard and an answer elicited one way or the other. To date, it has not.
And that is where the long strange trip down the Google Memory Hole begins. We are in it still. The backstory. Extremely frustrated but more determined than ever to elicit some kind of response from Google on behalf of the many petitioners, Amir and I discovered through online research that this was far from the first time Google had appeared totally disinterested in championing human rights in Iran, even as Google senior exec Wael Ghoneim was leading protests in Egypt. That glaring contrast resulted in the posting of the recent blog Google's Vanishing Act on Iran. That blog post, heavily researched and linked, portrayed Google's seeming determined inaction on the petition and Iran human rights in general in a very bad light based on the evidence at hand. We believed that if honey didn't work, perhaps vinegar would elicit some kind of response. It wasn't like we had to make bad stuff up about Google. There's no shortage of embarrassing news reports that Google senior management and their BFF Barack Obama would much rather see vanish into the ether. Problem is, nothing ever really vanishes into the ether of cyberspace. Once it's out there, it's out there,
After Amir and I wrapped that fact-based and most uncomfortable blog for Google, posted it here at DJ and then email-blasted it company-wide to the Big G to get their attention at long last, some very strange things began to happen. As I'm sure many of you citizen journalists are wont to do, I track new posts vigorously on Google. How many hits? Is the hit count tanking? Is it skyrocketing? Did some major news outlet link or even cover it? In many ways, it's like encouraging your favorite horse at the race track from afar. There's nothing you can really do from a distance but hope for the best and urge it on. What I noticed post-Google e-blitz, and for the first time in tracking hundreds of posts on Google both here and at Breitbart's Big Hollywood blog, is that the hit counts on Google Search for the blog plummeted even as the traffic spiked and Facebook shares and re-posts also jumped.
On that unusual development, I began taking periodic screen captures of search results. Some are rather stunning. Know that in all of these searches, I used quotation marks for the blog title to narrow the search to just the exact name. For example, at 1:50am on Feb. 21, even as the blog took the top spot at DJ and hits and FB likes steadily rose, there were only two search results on Google, both the same blog URL. At 6:12am that same morning, and despite holding at #1 and higher FB counts and reposts, there were still officially only two results. More showed on the page, again only DJ URLs. Twenty-two hours later, as the blog still clung to the top spot, a new Google search revealed a count rise from two to seven hits, yet there were no new hits for the past eleven hours. Then things really took a turn for the weird. At 8:00pm on Feb 22, as the blog had dipped slightly to the #2 spot but still received periodic likes and shares, I ran a 24-hour quote search of the title with only one result at all.
Seeing that the link was to a website called Muck Rack from two hours before, I decided to investigate who and what Muck Rack was. I found that the person representing the page was a man named Robert Strohmeyer, whom I found was a senior exec at PC World magazine online. I had contacted PC World staff email addresses earlier, among many other high tech contacts like IEEE News, as I inquired as to whether what I was seeing on Google, given the robust performance of the blog at DJ but paltry and even falling results in the Google search engine, might have constituted intentional burying of the blog results by Google. Mr. Strohmeyer had never contacted me in response to my email in any way, but I found it curious that the ONLY new Google search result for the blog , even as it had returned to the #1 spot once again, was Mr. Strohmeyer's, who had some very unkind things to say to me:
Yeah, Dude. Google is so worried about your insane rant that it's wasting its resources in burying your blog in search results. It couldn't possibly be because your blog is insignificant and poorly SEO'd.
Mind you, that if anyone had done a 24-hour search of Google at that time, even though the post was still active as the top blog at DJ, this most irascible and angry response would be all anyone would find, and with no blog post to reference for context. Just one singular and most hostile backhand. Mr. Strohmeyer never even attempted to challenge the post content itself. Instead, in his capacity as PC Geek and ex officio psychologist he declared me insane on the spot. Coincidence? Perhaps. Something weird was happening, that was for sure. Eight hours later, at 5:15am, I made another 24-hour Google search. After having found the lone hostile Muck Racker Robert Strohmeyer declaring me insane the night before, now there were two posts displayed in the search results, and the newest set off a major red alert in my brain.
For the first time since emailing the blog to Google and watching the bizarre dropoffs occur despite heavy traffic and activity, and despite a massive Facebook presence of the blog among such greatly popular Iranian Facebook pages for prisoners of conscience as Ahmad Zeidabadi and Nasrin Sotoudeh (each of which boasts over 6000 friends), one lone Facebook URL appeared like magic for the first time in days. It was the Facebook page of one Mr. Robert Strohmeyer. Again, prominently displayed front and center on his Facebook wall was my blog and the rather uncomplimentary quote above verbatim. Ergo, at this point in time, as my blog post at DJ crept back up the #1 spot, and FB likes and shares trickled in, only Mr. Strohmeyer's Facebook URL registered with Google search for the past 24 hours. You can verify all that by rechecking the screen caps linked above.
Since Mr. Strohmeyer was not live on his Muck Rack page but was present at his Facebook page, I decide to visit him and ask what drove him to post hostile commentary at both his Muck Rack and Facebook pages, and how he of all people was the only one to show in Google search results for my blog. But first I decided to do a little background in preparation. What I did find is that in Mr. Strohmeyer's capacity as a product reviewer for PC World, ha had quite a considerable record of issuing glowing reviews of Google products: Google Chrome, Google Earth, Google TV, even Google Health. Not a stinker among the bunch. So, Mr. Strohmeyer was somehow both a great Google admirer and the only person on earth who was able to miraculously appear in a 24-hour Google search of my blog, even after all DJ URLs for my still-alive and high-ranking blog dropped of the Google cyberspace cliff.
So I went to visit Mr. Strohmeyer at his Facebook page and ask him some tough questions. I will be honest, it did not go well. He again questioned my sanity and I questioned his plaid sweater vest, which even the nerdiest of pocket protector-bearing geeks don't wear anymore. In the end, after a heated back and forth, I told Mr. Strohmeyer than any moron could hurl an insult, and would Sweater Vest mind contesting my blog piece by piece, link by link, screen cap by screen cap and puzzle piece by puzzle piece? With no immediate response, I went to try to round up some more background ammunition. When I returned to his Facebook page shortly thereafter, my blog post was gone. Yet even now, the only two 24-hour search results on Google are his Muck Rack and Facebook page links, even though my blog post had been removed from the latter.
Now people, I am no web magician as Mr. Strohmeyer appears to be. I could not begin to explain how his two most hostile post links were the only ones to appear in Google search results, despite continuing good performance of the blog at DJ. Even now, the blog is holding the #2 spot. In that respect it sets a new record for me. No blog I have ever posted held so strong for so long at DJ. Very tough to do, but a lot of Iranians really ate it up. It struck a chord. All the preceding raises a great many troubling questions that I can't answer, as I am no expert. I know how to drive search engines like Google very well, but I would be lost under the hood. Perhaps Mr. Strohmeyer could explain it all for us. If not, perhaps the geek squad experts at Google may be able to explain it all to us. Somebody needs to. Agreed?
Let's face it, people. With all the screen caps and other documented evidence I have presented here, it all looks really bad for Google and Mr. Strohmeyer. I believe one or both owe the public significant technical explanations as to how my blog post URLs dropped down the Google Memory Hole, while at the same Mr. Strohmeyer's most hostile posts were the only ones to appear in the most recent Google searches. So there it all is. Down the Memory Hole we go, and we're still not out yet. But of all the cyber rabbits on earth, only Mr. Strohmeyer is poking his head up on Google Searches on my blog. Still no newer posts, except for this one now as I've linked the previous. Maybe it's too new post and Google doesn't know yet. They'll know soon enough. I just cc'd them on a mass emailing to the media, so I'll be watching for patterns of behavior. As to the rest, I don't have the answers for you. I'm no Super Geek like Mr. Strohmeyer and the Google Pocket Protector Flying Squad. But maybe those two sources would be very good places to start looking.
In closing, many very troubling questions linger here for me, based on all I have seen transpire online these past few days. Is this all just one big oddball coincidence? A Ghost in the Machine? Cyberspace Gremlins? Did someone other than Google alter the search engine parameters to exclude all links but Mr. Strohmeyer's most hostile and discrediting two posts? Was it Mr. Strohmeyer himself? Was it the Google PPFS? Or someone else? Inquiring Minds Want To Know. Given all the disturbing evidence here, as well as a most checkered legal history regarding Google's questionable and often highly illegal business practices that have already landed many top executives in jails worldwide, it all begs a question: is Google Corp. a most responsive and responsible private entity providing an essential public service? Or has Google devolved into an arrogant and lawless Tyranny of Geeks, who feel they can do the same in America in routing an unfavorable blog post like mine down the cyberspace Memory Hole as Google China just did with the word Jasmine?
And to think this all began because Amir and I, and many others, just wanted a yes or no answer from Google HQ on behalf of 2000+ voices as to whether Google would be so kind as change their logo color to green in support of brave Iranian protesters. If this all isn't a major Butterfly Effect, I really don't know what it is. Might I suggest Rep. Darrell Issa's Oversight Committee would be the proper forum for these troubling questions to be answered by all parties under oath? I'll swear to whatever Mr. Issa likes if called. I've still got screen caps galore! What say you, My Fellow Americans? Let's face it, people. if Google can stuff me, a citizen journalist posting at a most popular news and opinion website, down their cyberspace Memory Hole and think they can get away with it, what are your chances if they don't like what you have to say? As for me, I've already terminated my YouTube and Gmail accounts and will avoid using Google Search like the Plague. They may be good at what they do, but their customer service really sucks! And it's always more about people to me that anything else. Food for thought, Google. Actually, there's a whole brain banquet here. Bon Appetit!
GOOGLE RABBIT HAT: Within hours of posting this blog, the Facebook URLs for the original re-posts at the Iranian political prisoner websites named above suddenly appeared like magic in Google Search results for the first time in days. Make of that what you will.
THE FLOODGATES OPEN! After seeing only a trickle of results the past few days, all of a sudden there are now 1,040 Google search results for the Vanishing Act post. Please observe that most of the hits are days old, and that there are only four new search results in the past 24 hours. Now things are getting interesting!
SWEATER VEST HITS THE BRICKS: Mr. Robert Strohmeyer, who found it necessary to publicly defend himself on PC World's Twitter channel not long after this blog was posted, just announced today, Feb. 25th, his abrupt farewell from his juicy gig as a Senior Editor and product reviewer at PC World, as of next Friday, in order to hit the freelance market. I'm not saying either of these occurrences has anything to do with this post. I just report what I see. But I did contact some top editorial staff with the whole story and this blog hours before.
VANISHING ACT VOTED A TOPFIND! Many thanks again to all DJ staff and readers for voting up my blog Google's Vanishing Act on Iran into this week's TopFinds honors. Given that it wasn't much of a Top Find on Google Search to say the least, I consider the selection even sweeter. So thank you all. You've been a wonderful audience. DJ Rules!