While doing some research recently this writer was looking for the website for the four Republicans seeking a seat on Roanoke City Council. Since they are running under the “Vote 4 Roanoke” banner, it seemed that should be an easy search. However, the key words “Vote 4 Roanoke” did not show a link for their website, at vote4roanoke.com. Instead, the top three links that first showed up were for the Roanoke County official elections website.
The fourth link was to the Roanoke City official voting webpage, with general Nov. 8 information. (Later searches sometimes switched these, with more City pages first instead of County links.)
The fifth and sixth links tells one how to vote in the Roanoke Coop grocery store elections.
The seventh link was to The Roanoke Star’s piece where City Council member Stephanie Moon Reynolds is endorsing the GOP and Independent candidates on Nov. 8, but none of the Democrats.
The eighth, ninth, and tenth links were to stories from Cardinal News or The Roanoke Times about local elections; one was a Dan Casey piece about Salem’s elections.
The eleventh link was about some politics in Roanoke, Texas.
A quick check of the top two or three pages of search results did not show vote4roanoke.com, the actual website in question.
Notably, the odd search results were not for the four-member GOP team only. A search for four-term Mayor David Bowers’ campaign site also proved elusive.
A web search using the key words “david bowers vote roanoke va” turned up these results:
First, a Ballotpedia sample ballot.
Links two through eight were mainly interviews or stories about Bowers from local media outlets.
Links nine and ten were about Bowers’ law practice.
The actual site, bowers4roanoke.com, proved difficult to find. One might think that Bowers, with such a long record of public service, would have a campaign site that would be at the top of the search list. However, maybe with his years of officeholding and all the news stories that come along with that, the other stories were among the top search results.
For independent candidate Rev. Preston Tyler, his official site was sixth on the list.
For almost all other candidates, however, typing in their name and “vote roanoke va” put their official site at the top.
The algorithms that Big Tech uses to run searches have long been mysterious, and merchants know that cracking the enigma can open the path to riches. For candidates, strong or weak search results can spell the difference between victory or defeat.
Whether one uses Google or DuckDuckGo, the search engine that touts itself as a pro-privacy alternative to Google, the results were similar. Websites for the individual GOP and Democrat candidates popped up at the top of the search results, while the links for independents Tyler Preston and Jamaal Jackson were third to fifth. In contrast, the official pages for Vote4Roanoke and Bowers were buried so deep as to be almost impossible to find.
These odd results do not necessarily imply nefarious big tech actors. Perhaps some of the webpages were designed by folks who were better at search engine optimization (SEO). However, with trust in Big Tech already low, these results seem bizarre to many and questionable at best.