Atlanta, GA (WiredPRNews.com). Congressman Nathan Deal has never been considered particularly sympathetic to the cause of gay and lesbian rights. Rated 0% by the Human Rights Campaign and 7% by the American Civil Liberties Union, the Republican candidate for Governor has taken positions in favor of banning gay marriage and gay adoptions, and is against prohibiting job discrimination based on sexual orientation. This August, however, Nathan Deal took his positions one step further, angering gay rights activists and igniting a “Google War” that is having a significant impact on the race for Georgia Governor.
In the weeks leading up to the Republican Primary vote in Georgia, the Nathan Deal for Governor campaign targeted ‘Youth Pride’, an Atlanta charity dedicated to preventing suicide among gay teens. In television commercials which aired throughout the state, Nathan Deal attacked his Republican opponent, Karen Handel, for giving taxpayer dollars to the organization, which “did outreach to gay and ‘questioning’ kids as young as 13.” The commercials, which caused outrage among the gay and lesbian community and were even criticized by Jon Stewart on “The Daily Show” nevertheless played well to many Georgia voters and was considered a significant component in winning Deal the Republican Primary in Georgia.
But for one Atlanta resident and search optimization specialist, Nathan Deal’s anti-gay rhetoric hit especially close to home. A gay father of two, Seth Persily volunteers on the Board of Directors for Youth Pride, and is also the Vice President of Penn Multimedia, specializing in search engine optimization. After seeing the anti-gay commercials, Persily decided to use his SEO expertise to fight back. The result has been a “Google War” between Persily’s company, Penn Multimedia, and the Nathan Deal for Governor campaign, which the Atlanta-Journal Constitution stated “may be the first campaign of its kind, one that opens an entire new field of worry for political candidates.”
Shortly after the commercials aired, Persily, along with a handful of Georgia volunteers, went to work to influence “Google Suggest,” which are the search terms that “Google suggests” when one types in a keyword inquiry. By flooding the world wide web with information linking the words “Nathan Deal” to the descriptor “ethics”, and by creating micro-sites such as http://www.NathanDealEthics.com, Persily was able to influence the suggested search terms for the Google keyword phrase “Nathan Deal.” Now, whenever a Google user types in Nathan Deal’s name, the search engine immediately recommends searching for “Nathan Deal ethics”.
The relevance of this is no small matter to Georgia voters. As a Congressman, Nathan Deal had been found guilty of abusing his political office for personal financial gain, and was identified by the Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (CREW) as one of the 15 most corrupt Members of Congress. By using his SEO know-how to influence Google Suggest, Persily is attempting to bring these facts to the attention of anyone who searches the keyword Nathan Deal in Google, a move he hopes will erode support for the Republican Gubernatorial nominee. Moreover, accepting Google’s top suggestion for “Nathan Deal ethics” leads users to page after page of information, much of it disseminated by Persily and his team of volunteers, about Deal’s use of political power to make profits for a private business in which he was a partner.
Persily explained his motivations: “Every so often an individual’s actions are so heinous, so spiteful, and so vindictive, that no matter where you stand on the political spectrum you feel a moral obligation to get involved. This is true in the case of Nathan Deal, whose hate-filled, ethically challenged, anti-gay campaign for Governor of Georgia has taken scapegoating to a whole new level.”
The Atlanta Journal-Constitution called Persily’s low-cost and effective tactics a new form of political activism open to private citizens, and reported that the Deal campaign has been working to offset the damage caused by Persily’s Google War. “As the frontrunner, we have to expect liberals to attack us. And they have to expect to be attacked in return,” said Brian Robinson, spokesman for the Deal campaign. The Deal campaign said it was adopting counter-measures — saturating the Internet with positive articles about the Republican nominee for governor.