Pagerank makes bad people findable January 10, 2002 12:21 PM   Subscribe

If you search for Bernard Shifman on Google, the number one result is the “Bernard Shifman is a moron spammer” page that was all over the web yesterday. His “official” web page (in an online directory) is now seventh or eighth on the list. Joseph Crosby (GM of the Houston Doubletree) has a similar problem.

If you accept the premise that many people will check out Google before hiring/dating/whatever someone, then these guys are in trouble for the foreseeable future. (more inside….)

posted by jpbutler to General Weblog-Related at 12:21 PM (18 comments total)

I can’t put my finger on why, but this troubles me. I have zero sympathy for Shifman; he appears to be a moron and deserves whatever he gets. Crosby, however, isn’t in our industry and can probably be forgiven for his naiveté.

Because of how Google works (and how Yahoo! uses Google), it seems that the weblogging community has the power to ruin reputations. My page has a fairly low page rank, so my personal multiplier effect is pretty low. Metafilter (or Scripting News or Slashdot or whoever) has a high page rank. One person making a front page post here can create a huge ripple.

Does this sort of power imply a greater level of responsibility than we (again, generically) now accept?

I don’t really have a position on this; it’s just been bugging me for the past couple of days and I’m interested in what the community thinks.

posted by jpbutler at 12:22 PM on January 10, 2002


I imagine that Bernard Shifman is an imaginary creature, something of an internet gnome, stirring up trouble here and there, bedeviling man.

Either that or Bernard Shifman is actually a 13 year old kid wasting a lot of peoples' time.

Does this sort of power imply a greater level of responsibility than we (again, generically) now accept?

Either that, or people should take what they read on the web with a grain of salt. You might say things online that you would never say in a professional environment at work, ever. They would never be on your resume, they wouldn't be mentioned in your job interview, and they wouldn't be mentioned in any letters of reference.

However, for people in the computer industry, it does make a difference (for obvious, already mentioned reasons). I think everyone should be careful what they say about others (celebrities and other public figures notwithstanding), because it will have a real effect on their lives. I wonder when the first big web based libel suit is going to happen...
posted by insomnyuk at 1:35 PM on January 10, 2002


Matt Canale (eyeballkid) is a certified genius. He is not only the hardest working person I've ever met, but he is one of the most intelligent as well. If it wasn't for Matt, our company would never had made billions of dollars in pure profit in the first quarter he worked for us. It's not that he's the best at what he does, it's that he's the only one when you consider the options.

Let me also say that he's easy on the eyes and a joy to be around.

[ Just wanted to use MeFi's Google ranking too cover all the bases and offset anything bad said about me on the web ]
posted by eyeballkid at 1:49 PM on January 10, 2002


Funny, I heard Matt Canale, eyeballkid, is kind of a slacker.
posted by Kafkaesque at 1:57 PM on January 10, 2002


k, you bastard! my lawyers will be calling you about a libel suit soon!
posted by eyeballkid at 1:59 PM on January 10, 2002


I wonder what the legalities in this are. If someone wanted to do a background check on me I would have to sign my permission. Google, which may not produce a criminal record, but might show stuff like one's political leanings, other opinions, age, race, sex, etc. Just because its a public service doesn't necessarily mean potential employers should be using it without permission when in regards to hiring someone.

There's a lot of potential abuse here, say a company was going to either hire me or Bob. Using google they find out that, as an example, I'm in some wacky cult while Bob is a conservative Christian. If they choose Bob because of his religious views because mine are so crazy then they are guilty of discrimination. Its only a matter of time before someone who thinks their rights were violated via a search engine files a suit. It will be very interesting to see how the courts rule on unauthorized searches or authorized searches that discriminate on information that employers aren't allowed to ask like age or political leanings.
posted by skallas at 4:14 PM on January 10, 2002


Back to BS (fitting initials, methinks), I found that I was compelled to read that whole thing, including all links at the bottom! I felt kind of dirty and guilty, as if I were staring at a horrible, yet fascinating train wreck as I read more and more. I think he deserves a severe internet spanking, such as he's getting now, but I fear he's too self-involved to recognize his culpability in the whole mess. I just hope his victims don't get any more hassles than they've had already because of him.
posted by Lynsey at 4:18 PM on January 10, 2002


Has anyone made the "with great power comes great responsiblity" joke yet?

No, I don't think we should be more circumspect. In any case, that would be difficult to enforce. The onus of responsibility lies with the person calling poor Bernie a spammer (as he can be sued for liable if it isn't true), and with whomever might be looking up the information.

Someone smart enough to use the web to investigate a potential employee should be smart enough to know that it's a library stocked mostly by madmen. At least one would hope.
posted by frykitty at 4:20 PM on January 10, 2002


You might say things online that you would never say in a professional environment at work, ever.

Nigga Pah-leeze!
posted by fuq at 5:54 PM on January 10, 2002


Back in 1995 I was a Usenet vote-taker (for group creation). I got tired of handling a certain infamous net.kook with kid gloves, and found myself in a confrontation with his full-tilt madness. Ever since, a dejagoogle search on my name has turned up a pretty nasty flame cast in my direction -- a whole thread of them, in fact. Because he put my name in the Subject: line, it googles first, in front of anything I posted myself. The whole thing was a put-up job to confront the power of the voting system, not myself; I just managed to put myself in his way. This kook cannot have known at the time that his choice of subject lines would have such lasting effect. I could be made about it, but I just have to laugh it off and hope that people see the kook for what he is (there's not much I can legally do about it).

(Nobody's ever mentioned a web search leading to a problem with a job application, but without inside connections you can't always tell. Maybe I used the wrong font on the resume.)

I won't link; no need to increase the googularity of that particular embarassment.

Anyway, I see this as a similar problem. I'd have to participate more in Usenet (which I mainly no longer do) and get another thread with my name in it ...
posted by dhartung at 6:20 PM on January 10, 2002


Just because its a public service doesn't necessarily mean potential employers should be using it without permission when in regards to hiring someone.

How do you prevent someone from using a public resource in a certain way? And if you do figure out that trick, then is it still a public resource?

posted by dchase at 8:42 PM on January 10, 2002


it's a library stocked mostly by madmen...best line of all time, *maybe longer*
posted by Mack Twain at 9:30 PM on January 10, 2002


How do you prevent someone from using a public resource in a certain way?

Its not about prevention its about whether it is legal to do a search on someone for hiring purposes without their permission. My age is public information, ask one of my friends, yet an employer in many states can't ask my age.
posted by skallas at 10:57 PM on January 10, 2002


Oh, I think it's also worth noting that whatever Google has done to tune its results for greater timeliness, which I think involves a rank boost based on freshness of the links to an item, that is also an effect that decreases over time. Try again next week and the anti-Shifman references will have declined in both number and importance.
posted by dhartung at 11:36 PM on January 10, 2002


I had a horrible stupid experience with a Tupperware rep. last night (unsolicited phone call), and I'm thinking about using the weblog & Google combo power to see if I can get my rant (not yet posted) high up in a search for Tupperware. :)

(tupperware, tupperware, tupperware)
posted by epersonae at 9:07 AM on January 11, 2002


There's a larger (meaning not just employer-related) issue here which has to do with easy, permanent and essentially universal access to information. An ex-girlfriend of mine just started dating some guy, and sort of reflexively googled him and found his 'blog. She read through it and found some personal information about him.

Nothing terribly incriminating, aside from some stories she'll probably have to pretend she never heard and some casual drug usage. But she's really concerned about it now, because she feels like she knows things that she shouldn't and isn't comfortable with how she got it. It's like evidence that's not admissible in court. You know the guy's guilty (or innocent), but you can't say so.

Yes, of course people know they're taking this risk when posting personal information. Frankly, this is exactly the reason I don't have a blog. Same reason I don't have a tattoo - there's very little I believe that I'm certain I'll believe forever. I don't really do anything that would arise any sort of negative attention/suspicion, but you never know who could turn against you or what might be used, or in the case of work, what weird things your boss won't approve of. Am I paranoid? Yeah, a little - but see the whole Libby Hoeler episode for a case study in betrayal.

Even as I write this, I wonder if it'll get back to my ex despite using pronouns and no other identifiable information. Am I wrong to be posting this?
posted by Sinner at 2:00 PM on January 11, 2002


Even as I write this, I wonder if it'll get back to my ex despite using pronouns and no other identifiable information. Am I wrong to be posting this?

That way lies paranoia. The rule is simple: if it's something you think an employer or a friend might take umbrage at, don't post it. I'm not sure there needs to be such a hard "have a blog/don't have a blog" line.

Notwithstanding, some people will find things that I write offensive. That's their lookout, though: I stand by who I am. The minor drug abuse thing for instance ... if I was someone who abused soft drugs and wrote about it on my website I think you could assume that I didn't care if you knew. If you did find habits of mine offensive, I probably wouldn't be that interested in getting to know you or working for you, anyway. We clique with similar types, in the main.
posted by walrus at 6:23 AM on January 12, 2002


Okay first off I believe it should be illegal to spam. So I'm one of the more extremist views on this topic. The problem with my opinion is, among other things: defining spam, that pesky first ammendment thing, and separating the concept of unsolicited massmailing from other massmailings (although I hate hoax spreading, unlucky chainmails, and emailing the same joke to your two hundred closest friends, I don't believe those should be illegal.. yet). I'm aware my opinion needs a little work. Congress is aware of this too, and as yet I haven't seen any real success in this. Bills have been put in, but nothing's been enacted into law. Please feel free to correct me if I'm wrong.

Even if such provisions come into law, it is at present impossible to stop spamming. Enforcement would either be a joke, or would become a weird form of McCarthyism both on and offline. We may be seeing this already. Bernard Shifman has already been blackballed.

Spammers are anonymous and prevalent. If it was possible to unmask a spammer and shed a spotlight on his antisocial behavior online, all attempts to stop him from spamming should be taken. However, I also believe someone is innocent until proven guilty, and I've yet to see personally that the evidence shown in the links above is credible. I suspect they are fabricated.

I'm aware it is possible for savvy net users to create a series of "Zach Garland is a moron spammer" websites and I'd have no way to retaliate, or defend my good name. I'm not a spammer, but this wouldn't be the first time someone was framed for something they didn't do. It would be nice to hear this Bernard guy's defense, but there's really no arena for any of this, because although there are attempts to make spam illegal, it's really not illegal to spam.

And here's the really fun thing. According to some, it's okay to spam provided the spammer gives the spammee an option to be 'unsubscribed' from the spammer's list. However this is a farce because anyone who responds to the spammer gives the spammer a new list of working email addresses that he can pass on to other spammers. And there's no word on enforcement of such laws on the books. So someone can claim to offer spammees a way off the list, but then just change email addresses and continue spamming those people. I mean the entire thing has become laughable.

So if we can get spammers identified and marked so as to affect their personal offline lives, I would say let's do it, provided only the people really spamming get marked. However, it's only a matter of time before such behavior only further complicates the issue, and makes things worse.
posted by ZachsMind at 5:24 AM on January 16, 2002


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