Rumour has it, Boris Johnson is trying to manipulate our Google search results by using similar keywords or phrases of already-circulating negative media coverage to create new trending stories. Basically, BoJo will say or do something random to distract us from his dubious track record, and the news will pick it up.
In June, during an interview with Ross Kempsell, Boris Johnson shared that he likes to make and paint models of buses in his downtime. Naturally, the next day, the focus of the media was on this peculiar, and frankly random hobby. Of course, that is not to judge his hobbies, but for a man who has previously shared his love for painting cheese boxes and claims to have written an entire script for a potential blockbuster film set in war-torn Syria and Iraq, this probably shouldn’t come as a surprise. But what if all of Johnson’s random little remarks weren’t so random after all, and are all but a ploy to take our attention away from current affairs, ones that actually matter?
According to a theory identified and published by Parallax, this whole bus fiasco may have been an attempt to rearrange our search results when we type in ‘Boris Johnson’ and ‘bus’ on Google and other search engines. The reason for this would be to try and hide evidence of that time when Johnson created the infamous ‘Brexit’ buses, branded with false claims that the UK sends £350 million a week to Europe, right before the Brexit vote. The thing is, once Johnson’s hobby was revealed, not only did it get immense media coverage, but it also completely rearranged search results. According to the data conducted by Parallax, the CTR (click-through rate) has “fallen to a sub 2 per cent,” and “mentions from so many high tier publications with hefty domain authority pushing down ‘Routemaster bus’ related articles and replacing them with articles about Boris making model buses.”
And if the fact that all of this happening mid-campaign may still seem like a coincidence or conspiracy, there are more cases like this. For instance, earlier in September, Johnson gave a speech (the appropriate term to use would be rambled) in front of the police. At the same time, reports were circulating about how the police were called to the flat he shared with his partner Carrie Symonds, due to an alleged domestic dispute. This way, when ‘Boris Johnson and police’ were googled, his incomprehensible speech would show up instead. Similarly, Johnson saying that he was the “model of restraint,” could have been an attempt at shifting the attention from his alleged affair with ex-model Jennifer Arcuri, meaning that now, when you google “model” next to his name, of course, the model of restraint comes up.
It is unlikely that Boris Johnson is secretly an SEO strategy genius, but what about his PR team? “I doubt that manipulating the SERPs (search engine results pages) was exactly the plan, I don’t want to give them that much credit,” Jess Melia, who wrote the article detailing this exact theory for Parallax, tells Screen Shot.
“I think I’d hesitate to point to BoJo himself as the mastermind behind any online strategy,” says Ruth Attwood, Founder and SEO consultant at Puglet Digital. Adding that it wouldn’t be a stretch to assume someone working in PR would have a good understanding of SEO or have knowledge of using “search influenced channels to get out whatever message or change in perception they’re aiming for. It’s their job, after all.”
“There’s a lot more at play in terms of PR, coverage and social platforms in today’s digital ecosystem,” Attwood explains. When someone of a high influence (brand, media outlet or individual) starts driving a conversation into a particular direction, this almost always influences Google search results. “Of course, what someone sees and what they think are two very different things, but I think it would be remarkably short-sighted to think that search engine results don’t have any influence on the public consciousness.” Of course, Boris Johnson’s remarks have clearly changed the results of our search engines—but the thing is, the news media outlets that are publishing these conversations are the ones dominating the digital news domain.
So what does this teach us about our search engine usage and results? Of course, these can be influenced ‘for us’, which then also dictates the news and media we consume. For those of us who aren’t SEO specialists (and I am certainly not), it is hard to crack theories such as these. So perhaps next time, if you hear Boris Johnson doing something odd and ridiculous, take it with a grain of salt and perhaps refrain from tweeting about it.
Representation matters. That’s the current buzz behind books, slogans, and political campaigns in 2019. And I stand by it. If our diverse backgrounds are reflected by those in power too, then it’s often perceived that minorities will be understood in their nuance, instead of being viewed through their stereotype. But representation alone is not enough.
Newly appointed Prime Minister Boris Johnson has recently created his cabinet, and, wait for it, there are four brown people up front and centre. The U.K. now has a South Asian Home Secretary, a South Asian Chancellor of the Exchequer, a South Asian Development Secretary, a South Asian Chief Secretary, and the list goes on. Diversity within politics is now achieved! We can now move onto other topics, maybe even discuss climate change?
When hearing the news, Radio host Nihal Arthanayake tweeted, “An Asian Home Secretary and Chancellor. Politics aside, for Asian kids up and down the country that is a very visible example of representation”. But maybe we need to ask ourselves who is it ‘representing’ Asians and ‘ethnic minorities’ in Britain?
Born to Gujrati parents from Uganda, Pritti Patel has replaced Home Secretary Sajid Javid. Losing her role as International Development Secretary in 2017 due to holding private meetings in Israel without telling the Foreign Office, Patel joined the Conservative party in her teens. Her inspiration has always been Margaret Thatcher because of her rhetoric for both homes and businesses. Patel also has a record of backing stricter asylum and immigration rules and voted with Theresa May to aid the Windrush scandal, which was inducive in sending many Caribbean citizens ‘back’ and revoking their British citizenship.
She is now going to be in charge of immigration, crime policing, prisons, and probations. As someone who is pro-Brexit and determined to follow through with Johnson’s needs, Patel says her plans for immigration include close selection, “In future, we will decide who we give preference to, so we can ensure we are able to attract the most talented and skilled from other parts of the world”.
Rochdale-born and Bristol-bred Sajid Javid has moved into the role of Chancellor of Exchequer, meaning Javid is now to look after all economic and financial matters. Infamous for removing Shamima Begum’s citizenship this year, Javid similarly has a history of othering Muslim communities in an attempt to make them ‘better assimilate’ into British society.
As someone who on paper is similar to both Patel and Javid (South Asian heritage, Muslim and working-class upbringing, university-educated, and even a history of interracial relationships) seeing these fellow desi faces be granted the highest of seats in parliament didn’t make me scream out with joy nor did it give me hope for the generation growing up, because frankly, it all seems hollow.
In response to Nihal Arthanayake’s tweet and the many others applauding this ‘diverse’ cabinet, this is only a visible depiction of diversity, it is not diverse by school of thought, class backgrounds and where politicians lie on the side of policies. Doesn’t representation and diversity only work when we’re showcasing a breadth of ideas, of people and their beliefs, instead of acting like sheep in wolf’s clothing?
If the bar is we need more ethnic faces in politics, sure, that alone with elitism, nepotism and schooling systems systematically makes it more difficult for brown and black folks to enter politics, never mind those who are from faiths and backgrounds that are just about tolerated by the government. But in 2019, I’m not going to applaud you for being South Asian and within the political system claiming to be ‘for me’. My bar isn’t so low, and neither should yours be.
For our parents, grandparents and so forth, the idea ‘see to be’ may have worked as a point of aspiration for their children to climb up to, but as second and third generation British Asians settle, our ideas surrounding representation needs to be refreshed. In times of an alt-right rendition and rise of Islamophobia, our needs have expanded.
Both Patel and Javid utilise their tokenism for their personal benefit. This British Asian heritage works as a duality, leveraging to the South Asian communities while showing Tories can also be inclusive (as Labour has always had a larger ethnic minority presence) and simultaneously making sure the ladder is pulled back up, only for them to look down on those who are still ostracized because ‘Hey! If I can do it, so can you!’
In the past, Patel has said she is ‘British first’ and finds the term Black and Minority Ethnicity (BME) offensive. Javid has made it public that he fits into British society by drinking alcohol (his example), placing the blame onto Muslim communities for terrorism instead of questioning the root of why homegrown terrorism is occurring, and best of all, saying he is doing it for these communities.
I’m not asking for politicians to hold onto their roots if they do not feel the need to nor do I want anyone to feel as though there is only one way to be South Asian and in politics. However, what I am asking for when seeking representation in politics are people who are working with our ethnic minority communities instead of against them. Politicians that don’t equate assimilation to deleting their heritage just like their user history. Individuals that don’t distinguish being successful in politics with being South Asian or Muslim and won’t stay silent in the face of racist proceedings. Representatives that are now ready to put new systems into place.
Boris Johnson may continue to assemble a diverse cabinet, maybe even throw in a politician whose background may up the ‘ethnic card’ but if we don’t have politicians who work for us, as a community and country, we’ve already lost.