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Antisemitic pages amongst search engine results


Reply-To: H-NET History of Antisemitism List
Sender: H-NET History of Antisemitism List
From: Daniel Yurman
List Editor: Richard S Levy

Tuesday, September 19, 2000

Issue: What to do about mixed up search results for Holocaust web sites?

Holocaust denier and related advocates of Neo-Nazi politics are deceiving the search engine algorithms used by Internet portal services such as Yahoo, Alta-Vista, Hotbot, Lycos, and Excite, among others. The deceptive practice involves the non-standard use of meta-tags. A meta-tag is computer code not seen by end-users which identifies the web site to search engines and allows them to classify the site as to content. The outcome is search engines return the web sites of Holocaust deniers, white power advocates, and related neo-Nazi promoters when a user enters the word "Holocaust" in the dialog box.


The managers of Internet portal sites are well aware of efforts to "game" their search engines by commercial interests including pornographers, quick buck artists, and even competing sports sites. A widely reported example is 'whitehouse.com' which carries adult content. However, managers of search engines and portal sites may not be aware, or if they are have taken no action, with regard to deliberate efforts to mislead Internet users regarding web sites with Holocaust content.

Unsuspecting users get exposed to Nazi propaganda, and related Holocaust denial material, based on their trust of the efficiency and accuracy of the search engine operations. This is an especially troublesome problem for students and others who are too young to have had first-hand contact with Holocaust survivors.


The portal sites noted above account for a significant percentage of web-based searches for information. There are many other search engines, but these get the most "hits" on a daily basis. Collectively, they represent tens-of-millions of searches. While there is no way to know how many searches are requested on Holocaust topics over time, it must be a significant number, else the problem of Holocaust deniers masquerading as the real thing would not have come to some reader's attention.

It would be a relatively simply matter to prepare a set of examples of Holocaust denier web sites. Include examples of meta-tag source code that show the difference between true Holocaust sites, such as Nizkor, the US Holocaust Museum, archives for this list, etc., and, denier sites such as David Irving's or Rae West's. By showing the differences in meta-tags, search engine programmers could have the basis for changing their algorithms to separate true Holocaust sites from bogus ones.

A letter, perhaps to be signed by a number of appropriate Holocaust scholars, could be delivered to the CEOs of the major portal sites. The letter would serve to notify the CEOs of the nature of the problem and also provide the technical means for addressing it. Included with the letter would be a briefing on Holocaust deniers, the examples of meta-tag source code, and examples of legitimate Holocaust sites, as well as their meta-tags.

This dual approach, at the policy and technical levels, could be successful in addressing a worrisome problem. A point of leverage is that the managers and technical staff of portal sites with popular search engines do not like to be "gamed" by anyone, regardless of commercial interests or politics. The reason is the reputation of the search engines is a distinctive competency for gaining competitive advantage.

If the word gets out that search engines of portal sites have been deceived, it could cost them users. As the number of users is a key determinant of revenue, from advertising and electronic commerce, anything that assures the integrity of the search engine is valued, and anything that undercuts it gets corrective action once its effects have become known. It follows that the business managers of these sites would have a natural interest in closing a vulnerability in their operations.

What Results Would Be Achieved?

Of course deniers might complain such actions are anti-thetical to free speech. They might accuse the search engines of "being in bed with an international Jewish conspiracy." However, if Holocaust deniers, Neo-Nazis, and other hate groups are "spoofing" search engines with bogus meta tags, the proposed action would only serve to cause them to use the technology correctly or at least be thwarted from achieving their goals of using the technology incorrectly. It would not limit access to their sites, but it could insure the search engines reported their status and purpose differently that others.

It would lend integrity to search engine results, and it would aid to protect the impressionable and the young from inappropriate or untruthful material. It would aid teachers and the news media in correctly identifying Holocaust related resources on the web which are unaffected by the revisionist message.

Readers of this list might also wish to check out the slim but useful volume, "Web Wisdom -- How to Evaluate and Create Information Quality on the Web," by Janet Alexander and Marsha Ann Tate isbn 0-8058-3123-1 A related web site may be found at http://www.widener.edu/libraries.html

Daniel Yurman



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David Irving comments, Friday, September 29, 2000

YES, life is tough on the traditional enemies of Free Speech in the age of the Internet. How they squirm at the realisation that there is a medium which they do not control! For a long time it irritated me when I heard that people who punched in my name to a search engine got fifty pages of Nizkor effluent before they came to one page of truth. A search of their code revealed no secret mechanisms, then I learned that these enemies used their familiar old one: by paying the search-engine companies, some websites get higher placings on the ratings, i.e. they pop out of the engine first.

Hard work triumphs over evil (and its root, money) however, and our website won an award from an independent company earlier in 2000 as being one of the fifty history-source websites most linked-to on the Internet. As for our meta-tags: they follow standard rules, designed to aid search engines. The engines are clever enough now to weed out all the tricks and devices (like printing the word SEX a thousand times invisibly, i.e. on a background of the same colour). They even weed out more sophisticated tricks.


By the way: In Dan Yurman's piece above, the word HOLOCAUST occurs sixteen times. . .


Related item on this website:

Attempts by the ADL to enforce its Surfwatch filters on the Internet.

©Focal Point 2000 e-mail: write to David Irving