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Boris Johnson accused of manipulating search results with deliberate phrases

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British Prime Minister Boris Johnson doesn’t really like Google, and he shared this last week from the UN General Assembly podium – but that doesn’t mean he’s above trying to bend Google search results to his will by using some rather involved and elaborate techniques.

At least that’s what Wired is now reporting, citing examples of Johnson’s colorful and baffling statements and behavior – that may or may not have been entirely intentional, as a tactic to deflect and redirect.

“One theory is that Johnson is trying to downplay negative news coverage of events by seeding news stories into Google search results by using similar phrases and key terms that are more positive,” Wired explained this “hypothesis.” One example given is that Johnson recently used the expression “model of restraint” to describe himself. Why would he have gone for that turn of phrase? Perhaps because he has a sense of humor.

But theorists now say it was really meant to bury mentions of his alleged relationship with a former model from popping up when somebody searched “Boris Johnson model” on Google.

What undermines this theory somewhat is that Johnson has had a long and documented history of eccentric behavior – even by a British politician’s standards – going all the way back to the time he served as the mayor of London.

Even more damning to the theory, as the Wired mentions, is the high unlikelihood that this is how anyone successfully manipulates Google search results.

“Manipulating Google search engine results by saying some ridiculous things is not easily done,” said SEO consultant Lukasz Zelezny, and explained that Google’s secret search sauce includes many more ingredients than simply keywords and news stories.

However, many are eager to embrace and advance the theory. Thus one of Johnson’s political opponents posted a combo of screenshots on Twitter of the search query “Boris Johnson model” that were, according to him, taken an hour apart. The search performed later apparently no longer returned the unpleasant results leading to the stories about Johnson’s alleged secret relationship – so the conclusion is that he must indeed be “gaming the Google system.”

In any case, if you’re a detractor of Boris Johnson, the Wired story is a win-win (and btw, it’s also now the top result when you search for “Boris Johnson model”). The report paints the prime minister as either an unreliable erratic oddball or a mustache-twirling digital villain – take your pick.

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