Ariel Waldman, Twitter, and the "whore" algorithm

Don't call Ariel Waldman a "whore" where Google can hear you. That's the only firm conclusion we can draw from a confusing fracas that left even Twitter cofounder Biz Stone unsure who can call whom a whore on the service. Waldman, a blogger and community manager at quasi-rival messaging site Pownce, called out Twitter for allegedly failing to uphold its own terms of service, setting off an online firestorm.

Waldman's complaint: Using a (now-offline) anonymous Twitter account, @confess, a user called Waldman a "crack-whore," and mockingly congratulated her for having "graduated to soft-core lesbian porn!" When Waldman asked Twitter's team to warn or remove the user, founder Jack Dorsey declined, on the grounds that "we've reviewed the matter and decided it's not in our best interest to get involved." Waldman believes Twitter owes it to their community to do just that, and got them involved instead.

She took the dispute to her blog, instantly become a cause célèbre — with 700 comments, 2,000 Diggs, and a raging debate on customer-service discussion board Get Satisfaction.

As CNET's Caroline McCarthy observed, "in the bubble-like culture of Web 2.0, Waldman is a sort of celebrity — and with celebrity comes scrutiny and often ugly commentary." Attention magnifies attention. Now Waldman's an even larger public figure, and therefore target — and sure enough, she's been called a whore a whole lot more after the incident than before.

Being called a "whore" online is one thing, but being called one in connection with one's search results? This may be Waldman's deeper gripe. "Anyone can use Twitter to consistently harass you and ruin search results for your identity," she writes. Twitter enjoys a stratospheric rank in Google's search results, making it a favorite in the world of social media marketers — the world in which Waldman works. But the spat has only strengthened the associations between Waldman's good name and the bad ones she's been called, from the all-powerful Google algorithm's point of view.

For a few, this reporter included, getting the mantle of "whore" tossed atop one's search results might be a value add, but for most, it's a detractor from the business at hand. What hurts Waldman as much as the misogynist namecalling is that potential business partners will see a social-media expert who's bad-mouthing a rival service to shame it into managing her online reputation for her.

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