The meanness strategy

Vitaly Borker came up with a rather diabolical business plan: treat customers at DecorMyEyes really, really badly … so badly that they write really bad online reviews. Those online reviews, and all the subsequent viewing of them, boost rankings in search engines.

Google called the whole thing disturbing and created an algorithm weeding out bad reviews as a means to count hits for a higher spot on its search page. The company says it hopes the algorithm will prevent copycats. You’ll notice that DecorMyEyes isn’t linked to in this post. Before you check it out and click on a link that might bypass the Google algorithm, read the New York Times‘ article on Borker’s behavior.

This horrible story clearly involves unethical behavior. That’s obvious. But the meanness strategy borrows from a common PR tactic: move good things about yourself to the top of the Google leaderboard and bury the bad. The very premise of search engines builds on volume of interest. The math here has ethical implications because the dominant voice — or business or political figure or whatever — is destined to be seen first. The distance from a meanness strategy and a dominance strategy is not so far apart.

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