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May 05, 2005



I don't understand why the blogger in question now seems to be saying he is merely alleging these things happened. His original post seems fairly straight-up accusatory to me.

The spamming process is a complex, but I very much doubt that the media organisation concerned would employ spam as a way of getting rank (I'd be incredibly surprised if it mattered that much to them).

Isn't it more likely that it's some rogue spammer? After all, we don't imagine that Pfizer - or even legitimate pharmacies - are responsible for every Viagra spam.

Tin foil hat stuff indeed.

Anspar Jonte

One man's speculation is another man's evidence. And make no mistake, he was providing evidence. You just were unconvinced by it.

Nick Lewis

Dan, that's a harsh judgement -- but as you know, I deeply respect your opinion.

I hope you actually read the case I laid against them. Early on when I was investigating this, I ceased discussing the subject on the e-mail list at the request of Jeff Jarvis. From your post, it sounds like your are judging the story based on the evidence that I presented on the e-mail list, and the incomplete picture given on wired magazine (wired magazine didn't link to my main post about this).

In any case, the reaction to this story has been very diverse. Yesterday, I wrote a summery of the reactions to this story by PR, SEO, anti-spam, and media blogs [link]. Wales comment was among the first I quoted in the summery, btw.

Bobbie, your correct: I did back down from my original stand -- its not that I didn't believe what I said. Rather, its that I was caught off guard by how fast this story spread (when I went to bed one night, about 30 people had read it... the next day I woke up to see that over the course of three hours that number had grown to 6000), and I wanted to avoid the risk of libel.

Dan Gillmor

Nick, seems to me you are asking CNN and other people who don't buy your theory to prove a negative.

Nick Lewis

Dan writes: "As I understood the discussion on the list, the blogger seemed to think that because the IP addresses of the spammers couldn't be traced back to the Big News Organization, that was somehow a big hint that his theory must be true."

That seems to be a misunderstanding. You've framed it as though my argument was "I can't trace the IP address, so it must be true..." That wasn't my point at all: all I was saying is that its within the realm of reason to assume they'd be smart enough not to do this from their headquarters in Atlanta (if they had, I would have solved this on the first day). So far, I have picked up 15 instances of a spam that is only found on posts discussing CNN. The spamming began on the morning of the 17th and ended on the evening of the 18th. The spams have four selling hooks that are clearly intended to get someone to watch CNN prime time at least once. Of course there is a lot more to this, and you can read it here if you wish. Forgive me for the link... my desire is not to publicize this so much as to get my actual case on record. I don't really see the point of discussing this in a hush-hush no names or citations sort of manner.

You are correct that no one: no CNN employee is on record saying "it was me.", and the IP address does not trace back to Atlanta. You're free to remain unconvinced, and even condemn me for being irresponsible. However, as it stands, I think your criticism is fails to address any of my actual evidence or arguments. Rather, you just pulled out one quote from a discussion on a mailing list while failing to give the audience any context or background. Then you threw in some comments about tin-foil hats ect... You may be correct, but there are a large number of credible sources who are experts in SEO and Spam that think this is perfectly plausable, and that the evidence is worth at least consideration. Of course I am not asking you to prove CNN didn't do this. However, I wish you would at least criticize my claim in a way that brings us closer to the truth (i.e. addresses my actual evidence), as opposed to what we have here.

Alex Krupp

Dan: You can link to them using the rel="nofollow" attribute so that you don't raise their pagerank.

Seth Finkelstein

Nick, I didn't get back to you earlier, but I pointed out a major technical flaw in your theory - the spamming has a technical pattern that is more indicative of amateur attempts to raise search relevance than black-hat SEO tactics to lower search relevance:

CNN Blog spam Google conspiracy theory (Nancy Grace)

Nick Lewis

Seth, a quick question: If you were SEO specialists trying to knock a post off of google through a comment, how would you approach it?

Also, there are a few things that bug me about this explanation. If this was in fact an amature, why did he only choose to leave keywords 4 out of 15 posts? I would think he would leave those keywords on all of them if his goal was to raise his comments visibility.

Also, the person who leaves the comments uses fake names and e-mail addresses. He most commonly goes by "Thoth". However, the only evidence of this guy on the web, besides for the spams he left everywhere was this blog(I used the rel="nofollow, btw). But the blog is nothing more than a copy of the spam that he left everywhere. The spammers behavior just doesn't match up with the explanation of him being an amature who wants to be heard. Plus, remember that we haven't heard from this guy since the 18th... (a day before this started getting people's attention). I was very transparent with the methods I was using to track these spams; I'd guess that a prankster would probably want to have a little fun with me... instead they clearly have made an effort to disappear.

Seth Finkelstein

To knock-down a post, I'd dump a bunch of real spam, with infamous keywords. Google hates that.

I believe the "Nancy Grace" spammer was someone who started out posting their message to a few blogs, then got, to them, the "bright idea" that they could make it more visible by keyword-stuffing. This seems a common pattern of behavior. Then they moved on to something else. Or maybe they figured you're doing their job better than they ever could! :-)

The net is filled with people who go around and spam blogs to get their message heard, with various degrees of skill at it. So by the saying "When you hear hoofbeats, think of horses before zebras", when you see weird spam, think marginal people before elaborate PR campaigns. It's a much better fit.



I don't really understand your post and your objections.

1) Why do you link to and decline to link to the actual post that provides evidence for what you are talking about? Anyone in possession of Nick's front page can find the actual post. What are you getting at by omitting the actual evidence for the issue in question? You can always use nofollow if you are worried about Google juice, but you are talking about the post, therefore link to it so we can decide for ourselves.

2) I don't really catch your problem with the allegations. This behaviour that Nick describes is odd, at least. Do you agree? Doesn't odd behaviour require an explanation? Are you objecting to speculation on a blog posting? Citing Jimmy Wales is an appeal to authority and doesn't cut any mustard with me.

That the IP doesn't point back to CNN, isn't evidence either for or against the notion that CNN is responsible for the actions. The fact that all of the posts that were spammed commented negatively on CNN, also isn't evidence that CNN is responsible for the actions. They are however the evidence in front of us. Do you deny the evidence as reported? Isn't this evidence unusual? Isn't it worth pursuing?

Contrary to Jimmy Wales' assertions (citing tin foil hats and black helicopters is the latest form of Godwin's law) it seems to me that this evidence is worth pursuing. And if it is worth pursuing, you have to posit some mechanism for what is happening. The most parsimonious explanation for the evidence at hand is that CNN is behind it. That doesn't mean that CNN _is_ behind it, but it makes more sense than pursuing some random theory. It could be that Fox is behind it, it could be some random student or blogger trying an experiment, or a SEO company gathering data or building their portfolio, or Jimmy Wales, or Dan Gilmour, or Wired, or me, but the explanation to rule out first is that CNN is doing it.

What I would like to know: What were all of the IPs used in posting this spam? For starters, I'd like for the one that Nick knows, but he doesn't seem to be providing it.

Seth Finkelstein

Ray, simply, why do you say: "The most parsimonious explanation for the evidence at hand is that CNN is behind it."?

The most parsimonious explanation to me seems to be that a ranty person who is doing a little bit of political spamming is behind it.

There's been much, much worse done on the Net over the years. Look up the name "Serdar Argic".

Dan Gillmor

Occam's Razor...



To describe what happened, you have to name CNN. I don't think that your postualted ranty person is unlikely in the universe of possible explanations, but it introduces a fact that is beyond those named in the description. You add an additional postulate, therefore your explanation is less parsimonious.

Would you suggest that Sendar Argic wasn't interested in Turkey and the Armenian genocide?

Nick Lewis

Speaking of Occam's Razor...

Seth Finkelstein

Ray, I understand the logic error you are making, and it has to do with some deep linguistic problems with creating a formal definition of parsimony. Nonetheless - are you seriously, with a straight face, suggesting that CNN is conducting a stealth anti-critical-blog PR campaign, is more parsimonious, than that some ranty guy is spamming a few blogs about CNN?

Even if I can't give a mini-philophy dissertation in a blog comment, I hope the problem is clear.

Cranky Observer

> tinfoil hats and black helicopters have
> more credibility, to my mind.

Unfortunately I don't have time to type in my whole black helicopter story, which is quite amusing, but the punchline of that story is "then the black helicopters flew out of the night and the guys in ninja suits swarmed down". Now, it turned out afterward to be reasonably legitimate (an Army unit, presumed to be the Delta Force, was practicing urban combat in a complex of abandoned buildings prior to their demolition), but (a) the "mythical" black helicopters did turn out to exist (b) questions were left unanswered, such as "who exactly were those guys" and "what was their Constituational authority to be practicing without notice in a populated urban areas?".


The Lonewacko Blog

A couple alternate explanations are that it isn't "CNN" the corporate entity or "Fox" the corporate entity, but producers or staffers for the shows involved. A rogue staffer at Fox could be trying to make CNN look bad, or a rogue staffer at CNN could be trying to pimp the shows they work on. I'm sure that Fox and CNN employ independent producers and the like, and they could have done it without it involving anyone else at those organizations.

Or, it could be someone who's obsessed with those shows, or someone who's just having some fun.

For a slightly similar example, see my comments here.

I posted a comment highly critical of former MEChA member Antonio Villaraigosa, who's now trailing in the race for L.A. Mayor. My comment was immediately followed by comments from two others who claimed to be donating $100 to AV's campaign.

Since the site in question requires registration, I was able to see that both commentors were very new: one had never commented before, and the other had commented three times, all on that issue. Methinks if anyone got $100 it was the commentors.

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