April 7, 2004 10:27 AM PDT

Google caught in anti-Semitism flap

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Search site Google has been drawn into a controversy during the week of Passover over a search listing that directs viewers to an anti-Semitic site when they enter the keyword "Jew."

The dispute began several weeks ago, when Steven Weinstock, a New York real estate investor and former yeshiva student, did a Google search on "Jew." The first site returned was Jew Watch, a site filled with short articles focusing on alleged Jewish conspiracies and other anti-Semitic topics, with headings such as "Jewish Controlled Press" and "Jewish Mind Control Mechanisms." The administrator of Jew Watch did not respond to an e-mail message requesting comment.

Weinstock has launched an online petition, asking Google to remove the site from its index. He said if Google receives 50,000 requests to remove the site, it will comply. As of late Tuesday, the petition had about 2,800 signatures.

"Google is the No. 1 search site, and the fact that the first search result would yield an anti-Semitic site is all too common in a growing era of increased anti-Semitism," he wrote in his introduction to the petition.

The petition site appeared to have been hacked on Wednesday, however. Clicking on links to view or sign the petition brought up pages with pornographic images, plus the message, "This guestbook is for The most LAMEST petition ever."

Google spokesman David Krane said the company's search results are determined by a complex set of algorithms that measure factors such as how many sites link to a given page. The company can't and won't change the ranking for Jew Watch, regardless of how many signatures the petition attracts, he said.

"Google's search results are solely determined by computer algorithms that essentially reflect the popular opinion of the Web," he said. "Our search results are not manipulated by hand. We're not able to make any manual changes to the results."

Krane said the ranking for Jew Watch is largely based on changing vocabulary patterns. "Jew" has been used less and less in mainstream society since Word War II, replaced by less culturally loaded terms such as "Jewish person." Google searches for "Jewish," "Jewish person" and "Jewish people" are all topped by pro-Jewish sites, including a number of Jewish dating services.

That's still not good enough for another online organization, however, which has launched its own effort to push Jew Watch off Google via "Google bombing," a technique that exploits Google's search methodology of basing rankings on how many sites link to a given page. Daniel Sieradski, through his influential Web log Jewschool, is urging visitors to pepper any sites they control with links to the entry on "Jew" in online encyclopedia Wikipedia.

Numerous other Google-bombing campaigns, ranging from pranks to a serious attempt to raise awareness of slain Wall Street Journal reporter Daniel Pearl, have emerged, since Google began dominating the search market.

Krane said he wasn't familiar with the Jewschool campaign but that Google typically discourages such tactics to manipulate search results.

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