Wednesday, August 10, 2005

“Bush Indictment”: hoax, or graffiti? Tech news for August 10

Even if the recent “Bush Indictment” search event in Technorati was a concerted effort on the part of frustrated bloggers to malign the President, the fact that the search term appeared on the charts at all means that Bush actually has been indicted.

He has not been indicted formally, of course, and there is no indication that this is imminent. But he has been indicted personally. He has been indicted by Bloggers according to the broader definition of the word “indictment”.

The word “indictment” is not only used to describe formal charges against a person. The word can also be used to describe an accusation of wrongdoing which has nothing to do with the criminal justice system.

Merriam-Webster defines the word “Indict“ as follows:

1. To charge with a fault or offense: CRITICIZE, ACCUSE.
2. To charge with a crime by the finding or presentment of a jury (as a grand jury) in due form or law

If someone had succeeded in spoofing the search stream to bring up fake headlines about President Bush being formally indicted in court, that would be much more than a hoax. It would be a malicious, probably felonious abuse of search robots. But putting the words “Bush” and “Indictment” together and searching on them can’t really be considered a hoax. It is really a lot more like graffiti.

Graffiti is one thing. Hoaxes are another. Neither is good, but it is critical that we understand the difference between the two.

Was this a case of rumormongering? Maybe. Was it someone’s twisted scheme to take Technorati for a ride? Perhaps. It all depends on whether or not this was a contrived event, or whether it was an instance of wishful thinking on a mass scale combined with plain old curiosity to know what others are talking about.

All in all, it serves as a sobering reminder that we need to be very careful of what we read on the web. And it is a reminder, too, to search robot designers of the need for safeguards to keep robots from being used to spread mass hysteria. Perhaps stricter leash laws for robots are in order.

Caveat Emptor, robots! Don’t help people believe lies and propaganda. The truth is confusing enough as it is.