Getting links and counting traffic is the name of the game for just about every web publisher out there. However, some have decided to go about the hunt for viewers by posting completely made-up stories as fact. Though that might be all fun and games to certain folks, Google is the ultimate authority on what’s funny and what isn’t, and it seems the verdict is prank posting as linkbait is decidedly not funny.
In fact, it could earn you a big old backhand, straight from Google, or so Matt Cutts of Google suggested after Lyndon Antcliff made up a story as linkbait and spread it across social networking sites, according to SearchEngineLand. The story got so big, it was picked up by nearly everyone, including Fox news…maybe you read it? It was called “13-Year Old Steals Dad’s Credit Card to Buy Hookers.”
After tons of traffic and coverage, the dust has settled, and some discovered that Antcliff actually created the story simply as a social experiment; Matt Cutts left some poignant commentary on Antcliff’s site, saying:
Google may respond negatively to other misleading practices not listed here (e.g. tricking users by registering misspellings of well-known websites). It’s not safe to assume that just because a specific deceptive technique isn’t included on this page, Google approves of it.
The problem here, of course, is that Antcliff didn’t disclose the story as fiction. If this was a case of something like The Onion, a site which is known for exclusively creating satirical and humorous stories, then there wouldn’t be an issue. However, by publishing content as real news, not only did Antcliff dupe social sites into promoting content that wasn’t real, Antcliff also indirectly discredited all the sites that covered his fake story.
There’s no way to monetize a loss in credibility, but the offense does directly affect people other than Antcliff.
What’s even worse is that Antcliff is completely unconcerned with the implications of linkbaiting, and even intends to instruct people in the best ways to linkbait. He says on his site, “I have little interest in discussing the ethics of linkbait, as far as I am concerned if it works and results are achieved then do it. I am soon to launch a subscription only coaching program for linkbaiters, where tactics will be discussed and consultation given.”
Frankly I find the whole affair deplorable, and the fact that Antcliff can’t recognize the implications of his purposed linkbaiting deserves punishment, not only from Google, but from whomever else can punish his actions. Granted, this particularly story didn’t seem to have a huge impact, but by training people how to linkbait, Antcliff is effectively destroying much of the hard work that others do to promote real stories for a living.