This year marks the 100th anniversary of George Orwell’s birth, and the writer who best explained the power of language on politics would be amazed what can be done with the Internet.
On February 17  a front page news analysis in the New York Times bylined by Patrick Tyler described the global anti-war protests as the emergence of “the second superpower”.
“…the huge anti-war demonstrations around the world this weekend are reminders that there may still be two superpowers on the planet: the United States and world public opinion.”
This potent phrase spread rapidly.
Anti-war campaigners, peace groups and NGOs took to describing the global popular protest as “the second superpower”. And in less than a month, the phrase was being used by UN Secretary General Kofi Annan. .
And a week ago, a Google search for the phrase would have shown the vigorous propagation of this ‘meme’.
Rub out the word
Then came this. Entitled The Second Superpower Rears its Beautiful Head, by James F Moore, it was accompanied by a brand new blog. The details need not detain us for very long, because the consequences of this piece are much more important than its anodyne contents.
It’s a plea for net users to organize themselves as a “superpower”, and represents a class of techno-utopian literature that John Perry Barlow has been promoting – the same sappy stuff, but not as well written – for the past ten years.
Only note how this example is sprinkled with trigger words for progressives, liberals and NPR listeners. It concludes – if you can find your way through this mound of feel-good styrofoam peanuts –
“we do not have to create a world where differences are resolved by war. It is not our destiny to live in a world of destruction, tedium, and tragedy. We will create a world of peace”.
In common with the genre, there’s no social or political context, although the author offers a single specific instruction that is very jarring in the surrounding blandness: we must co-operate with The World Bank. Huh?
It’s politics with the politics taken out: in short, it’s “revolution lite”.
Now here’s the important bit. Look what the phrase “Second Superpower” produces on Google now. Try it! Moore’s essay is right there at the top. And not just first, but it already occupies all but three of the first thirty spots.
The bashful Moore writes: “It was nice of Dave Winer [weblog tools vendor] and Doc Searls [advertising consultant] to pick up on it, even if it’s not really ready for much exposure.” No matter, Moore is an overnight A-list blogging superstar, at his very first attempt.
Although it took millions of people around the world to compel the Gray Lady to describe the anti-war movement as a “Second Superpower”, it took only a handful of webloggers to spin the alternative meaning to manufacture sufficient PageRank™ to flood Google with Moore’s alternative, neutered definition.
Indeed, if you were wearing your Google-goggles, and the search engine was your primary view of the world, you would have a hard time believing that the phrase “Second Superpower” ever meant anything else.
To all intents and purposes, the original meaning has been erased. Obliterated, in just seven weeks.
You’re especially susceptible to this if you subscribe to the view that Google’s PageRank™ is “inherently democratic,” which is how Google, Inc. describes it.
And this Googlewash took just 42 days.
Continue reading “Anti-war slogan coined, repurposed and Googlewashed … in 42 days”