Distinguishing between Black-Hat and White-Hat Search Engine Optimization

A quick lesson idea for teaching information literacy and SEO (Search Engine Optimization) to high schoolers…

Audience: High School Students using Google as a source for homework help

Activity: To show students the importance of being able to distinguish black-hat and white-hat SEO results, I would model an example of how they use Google inefficiently as a source to complete assignments. For example, I would copy a question they might search for verbatim, complete with WH- words and question marks, so that they could see how much time they waste by using search terms that produce black-hat results. In this way, they could see examples of black-hat and white-hat SEO results before they get started on the activity.

Then, students will participate in a “Bad-Match Scavenger Hunt” activity. Students will use homework assignment prompts from one of their actual core classes (such as U.S. History or Biology) and will use the questions on the worksheet to try to encounter as many black-hat results as possible. Once they find some, they will show a screen shot of the result summary and then the actual page of the black-hat website. Each student will prepare their “top-3 ridiculous results” to share with the class (or within small-groups, depending on class size). A discussion will follow to help students identify the markers of black-hat SEO in their results and how they can avoid them in their search terms.

Lessons from Michael Jackson

Before I begin, let me just say that I remember SixDegrees.com. I actually messed around with it a lot my freshman year of college in the computer lab (because back in 1998-1999, most students didn’t have their own computers yet, but we all loved the internet and AIM). As it turns out, I might still be able to use it, that is, if I had any idea what kind of user name and password that I thought was a good idea when I was 18. I wish there was a way to retrieve them and get in again! I’m just curious… Anyway, I especially appreciated Jason Griffey’s mention of Six Degrees in Chapter 5 of the Library Technology Report from November 2010, just because it makes me feel a bit more like a Digital Native (p. 34).

Actually, I’ve been a member of Facebook since 2005, back when it was only open to college kids. I liked the exclusivity and I thought that MySpace was dumb.

I was born in 1980, which seems to be on the cusp between Generation X and the Millennials/Generation Y. I definitely remember the analog era and rotary telephones, filmstrips and Rural Route 1 mailing addresses. I think we had at least one computer in every classroom I was in from 1st grade on–and in 4th grade, there were 15. But there was no internet for me until I was in 10th grade. Before then, we used computers to play Number Munchers and Oregon Trail or to word process.

In Palfrey and Gasser’s Born Digital, they describe three types of digital citizens: the Digital Native, the Digital Settler and the Digital Immigrant (location 79-81… remember I’m a Kindle reader, so no page numbers possible for me–basically this was found in the Introduction). While I identify with [some] of the descriptions of Digital Natives, I can’t say that I grew up in an era where I had no control of the digital dossier that was being created on me, like our hypothetical child “Andy” (location 690 and on). I’m probably more like a Digital Settler, to be technical.

When I think about the thought that I try put into [almost] every online post or photo in an attempt to protect my privacy, knowing that it is out-there in permanency, it’s a little troubling that baby pictures are often put up without hesitation. Many parents today are Digital Settlers or Digital Immigrants or non-Digitals, are the first ones creating “baby Andy’s” digital dossier and even digital identity, through their photo-sharing and text-messaging. (There are a few genuine Digital-Native parents too, yes, but I am willing to bet that these are also teen parents who might not yet have mastered the art of controlling their online presence, just based on their predicament… nothing against teen-parents, I am a product of one, but as a teacher, I prefer to see my students make it out of high school first.)

I digress.

The contributions that Andy’s family–and later his friends and others–make to the dossier are quite different from the contributions of the medical community. The digital information that is in the hands of his doctors is likely to stay more or less private over time, whereas the online postings about a Digital Native created by friends and family are immediately in public view and social (Palfrey & Gasser, location 720).

The important point here is that the proliferation of copying makes digital files wildly difficult to manage–and right off the bat. The process starts even before Andy’s birth. After he’s born, the ability of Andy’s parents to control the information that is associated with him is immediately lost, and by the time Andy comes of age and begins to try and manage it for himself, the tangle of information will be even more impossible to unravel (location 740).

What if parents aren’t even thinking about controlling their child’s digital dossier at all? Is it fair that this child might have to deal with unraveling the mess themselves later? I’m starting to understand why some celebrities don’t allow their child to be photographed much (or they make them wear masks like Michael Jackson’s kids). While I mostly love to see my peers’ slew of photos of their kids every day on Facebook, it makes me wonder what kind of message we are sending and if this kid will appreciate being posted all over the internet when they are our age.

I really want to see more people understand the choices they are making when they put themselves out there. I think making digital footprints is inevitable  if we want to use the internet at all; I’m not saying we should encourage everyone to be like Eli Neiburger’s patron in Chapter 3 of the Library Technology Report from November 2010: “I’m a bit nutty, so I won’t tag things at the library so Agent Smith can’t find me” (p. 18).

I know there are kids who already understand what it means to control their digital presence and there are adults who really don’t. It’s a process. It’s just that there has been more than once where I have had to remind kids that other people can see what they post (because  they don’t lock it down) and that they can get themselves in trouble for it (like cyber-bullying). And then there’s the pictures they post that just should be on the internet, again because everyone can see them.

I think it’s good to keep in mind Palfrey and Gasser’s warning from the end of chapter 2:

Too often, we are leaving our children alone to shape their identities in a fragile, fast-moving, hard-to-control environment online. And too often, the decisions that we make in favor of convenience mean giving up control that, at some point in the future, we may wish we had retained (location 886).