I mentioned in my weblog the other day that there is an attempt to get the racist Luther King website knocked down the rankings at Google, and the campaign is being run by Tom Hoffman with that link going directly to his weblog. His original idea of linking to various other MLK sites by providing a template and essentially Googlebombing the search engine has been superceded by his creation of notmartinlutherking.org (I've deliberatly not linked to it for reasons that will become obvious) which he's calling 'a technically simple way to link to martinlutherking dot org without adding to its page rank'. He's 'protected' it from search bots by it' robots.txt file and using rel="nofollow", so the links that go through his site won't increase the page rank.
All fine and dandy except that not all bots honor the robots.txt file. To block all bots it's necessary to start playing around with a file called .htaccess in order to specifically block them. So, while this is going to work with Google (he doesn't seem to be aware that there are other search engines out there), it's not necessarily going to work with all of them. In fact, if there are search engines out there that use the concept of page rank in a similar way to that used by Google (pages are considered important if lots of pages link to them, and if they then link to other pages that link is regarded as being particularly important) AND that don't honor the robots.txt file he's actually going to be doing the exact opposite of what he's trying to do!
At this point I should also say I don't know if this is the case in fact, just in theory, but if someone who is more familiar with specific search engines in this much detail could confirm or deny in that would be most helpful. More to the point however, I doubt that Hoffman knows either.
That's not actually the point of this post however. He did a trawl of the links that point to the site - because he could. He estimates that there are 180 of them. I did a simple search and Google returned almost 400. I then ran the same search on Yahoo, which reported over 3,400, and Live.com gave me over 2,000. Clearly his premise doesn't actually work that well, and he's entirely misunderstanding the concept of ranking, and even if it wasn't, it's going to relate to Google, and there are a lot of other search engines out there besides Big G. Anyway, having found these 180 websites he's written to them, asking them to change the link, and I don't actually have a problem with him doing that in the slightest; I got such an email - I thought I'd removed all my direct links to the site ages ago, but he found one. However, I turned it into a TinyURL to redirect, which I think is more elegant and gets around the problem of spiders and robots mentioned above.
Now - is he also going to email the other 2,000 or more websites as well? If not, why not? If the job is worth doing, it's worth doing well. Or, if he's just targetting that 180, how does he justify that? It's a bit like saying that he wants to change an article in one reference book but he doesn't care about the rest of them.
If he stopped at that point - well, fair enough I suppose. However, that's not where he's stopped, he's gone a stage further, and I quote: "Now that everyone has gotten fair warning, the next step may be nomination to The Skinhead Enablers Hall of Shame, coming to a weblog near you, unless or until I get tired of this."
My italics, his emboldening. So here we really to the nub of the thing - he is not content with expressing his own opinion, he wants other people to agree with him, and do what he wants - even when he doesn't actually know exactly what he IS doing - and anyone who disagrees with him is being threatened and bullied. Clearly he's not in favour of free speech, and rather keener on threats against people who hold views different to his own. Astonishingly, he doesn't appear able to see it.
Moreover, he is criticising a group of people (librarians and educators) who do point out the need to evaluate, to think critically, and not to accept everything they read. I've known about the MLK site for years, and I've used it in classes that I've run and spoken about it at conferences - as have other librarians as well. Yet, because we don't do things in the manner that he seems to think we should, he has decided to resort to threats. If people gave Hoffman any credence or respect for his initial opinion or campaign I suspect that he may well start watching it dribble away, since he's now moved the discussion entirely away from MLK into the arena of 'do as I say or suffer the consequences'. In my opinion, (and it's just that - you're more than welcome to hold an entirely different one), anyone who now supports him is condoning his threats and bullying tactics. How the racists must be laughing.