Tuesday, May 03, 2005

CNN on the Spam Attack?

Wired News reports The blogosphere is buzzing with rumors about a strange viral marketing campaign concerning CNN, that may be promoting the cable channel or squelching criticism of it -- or perhaps both at the same time. Earlier this month, blogger Nick Lewis noticed a strange post about CNN on his blog. The comment was critical of some new shows on CNN, but also included detail about the shows, their show times and the anchors hosting them. The same terms were repeated over and over, making it appear like spam. Something was not right.

Suspicious, Lewis checked other blogs and soon noticed a pattern: He found a lot of similar comments about CNN on sites like DesperateHousewives, CrankyGreg and BradBlog. All the comments were posted by someone called Joseph or Thoth, and used the same language. Lewis came across roughly three new spam comments a day.

Lewis initially suspected CNN of being behind the mysterious posts. Lewis thought CNN might be trying to jam blogs critical of the network by spamming them. The network, or a surrogate, was posting comments on blogs using a technique called "keyword stuffing," Lewis claimed.

Keyword stuffing was a technique commonly used at the height of the dot-com boom to raise a site's search-engine ranking. Stuff a site with common search terms, or keywords, and its ranking would rise. But search engines are wise to the technique. Now, when search sites detect blatant keyword stuffing, they often penalize the offending site by delisting it from their indexes, or removing it from the first 100 results. Lewis said CNN may be keyword-stuffing sites critical of the network, causing the sites to be delisted by search engines. "I don't think their motivation is malevolent so much as experimental," said Lewis. "My guess is that this was a pilot experiment, to see if it would fly."

Lewis also suggested the network may be trying to create buzz with a viral-marketing campaign. Even if the buzz is negative, chattering on blogs may encourage viewers to watch the network's new programming. CNN recently introduced several shows in an attempt to compete with Fox News. One of the shows, Showbiz Tonight, was described in one of the suspicious comments as "trashy and un-newslike." "They seemed to have put a lot of effort into casually dropping all of the times, names, etc. (of CNN shows)," said Lewis. "I think they were hoping we might watch the shows and create a buzz about how 'trashy and un-newslike' the new CNN is, and in effect advertise for them."

A CNN spokeswoman denied the network is behind the posts.

I doubt that CNN would be this stupid, but someone who disliked the criticism of a favorite show might have done it

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