Barack Obama Uses Google to Combat Vicious Rumors

Searches for some of the most pervasive Internet rumors often turn up links to his campaign website.

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Barack Obama is waging a quiet battle in the Googlesphere to combat damaging rumors, as well as his opponent, John McCain.

Specifically, Obama's campaign has waded into online auctions for Google search terms to snap up not only obvious phrases like "Barack Obama" but also potentially negative ones like "Barack Obama birth certificate" or "Barack Obama as a Muslim," according to Hitwise, an Internet audience monitoring firm.

This means that, as of Wednesday morning, Google searches for Obama being a Muslim (a false but pervasive Web rumor) often turn up a prominent "sponsored" link at the top of the results page that connects to a page on Obama's campaign website that debunks the myth and details his Christian faith. Searches for Obama's birth certificate produce a link to a page showing the official document.

It's not clear how many Web surfers are being driven to his site through these search ads. Data from Hitwise suggest the numbers are relatively low.

Whether or not people visit the Obama site, the Google search results page displays, underneath the link, text that denies the specific rumor, such as "Barack Obama is a Christian. Get the facts at his official site."

Similarly, a search for "Obama flag pin"—referring to another Internet myth that Obama refuses to wear a U.S. flag pin (which is also false)—frequently turns up a link to his site, with the text, "He says the Pledge, puts his hand on his heart and wears a flag pin." Other searches, like "Obama Koran" or "Obama Pledge of Allegiance," also usually contain sponsored links to Obama's website.

His campaign is not just playing defense. Searches for terms like "Palin Bridge to Nowhere" and "McCain maverick" sometimes display sponsored links back to Obama's campaign website.

The campaign also has bid on searches like "Obama's views," "Obama taxes," and "volunteer for Obama."

Several weeks ago, there were reports that the McCain campaign appeared to be outmaneuvering Obama when it came to Google search words. The Wall Street Journal reported that McCain was bidding on terms like "Joe Biden," as well as general issue searches like "U.S. economy," and "housing crisis."

There are also signs that McCain's campaign is bidding on some of the Obama rumor search terms. On Wednesday morning, searches for "Obama Muslim" sometimes generated a sponsored link to McCain's site.

Overall, the McCain campaign has been more aggressive in bidding on Google search terms. In August, McCain's site managed 21.6 million sponsored search-link impressions (the number of times users click on a particular sponsored link), compared with less than 1 million for Obama's site, according to Nielson Online, another Internet monitoring firm.

But the tech-savvy Obama campaign remains far ahead in the overall Web war. Obama has focused his resources on the more prominent—and more expensive—Internet display ads. Obama's website also continues to attract twice the number of unique visitors McCain's site does.