It has been a while. The last time I posted on here with any regularity Ned Stark still had his head on his shoulders, Rick Grimes hadn't met the Governor and the Mars Curiosity Rover had yet to to check in on Four Square for the first time (and Four Square was still a thing). It wasn't just Swollen Pickles I stepped back from, it was my other sites as well.
What caused me to walk away? I guess my interest in keeping this site up to date waned when I got my first, and hopefully last, penalty from Google, that resulted in Google disabling Adsense from displaying on this domain. So how exactly did I find myself in the Adsense dog house?
I'd made a lot of mistakes with this blog as well. Some I'll write off to being younger and stupider. Some were a little out of my control. Some were out of naivety. Some were out of greed. In the end though, it would seem that the biggest mistake I made was publishing a post criticizing the SMH of some sloppy journalism relating to the fake Meg White sex tape. It's a long story so stick with me...
Travelling back to the year 2007
Way back on the 26 September of 2007, the Sydney Morning Herald ran a story with the provocative title Meg White sex video claim. This was at a time that the White Stripes were arguably at the peak of their popularity. The article opens with the sentence "Meg White is reportedly the star of a new sex video" and ended with "Representatives for the band are yet to confirm or deny the video is genuine." The article also went on to talk about how the band had cancelled the remainder of their 2007 tour and pointed to rumors that it was due to Meg White's embarrassment about the sex tape. It was all attention grabbing stuff.
Now here's the problem, anyone that had taken the time to do a quick Google search could tell you the whole sex tape thing was a blow up. Summary version, some guy had found a video during the course of his, and I'll quote him now, "random wank mining efforts" and posted it up on a forum on the 17 September 2007. He tagged it as a celebrity because he thought people would 'have a laugh' and admitted it had no link to Meg White. By the 24 September, the forum post had snow balled to the point where a publicist for the White Stripes released a statement saying "The tape circulating on the internet as featuring Meg White is fake. It’s definitely not Meg." At this point, a bunch of other publications, including the NME, were reporting that the whole thing was a sham.
So at that point you had the random guy that posted the video saying that it had nothing to do with Meg White, you had the band releasing a statement saying that the person in the video is not Meg White and you had a bunch of other publications publishing stories reporting the woman in the tape was not Meg White. Then a day later you have one of the largest news outlets in Australia publishing a story that seems to ignore all that in order to pursue what we now know as 'click bait'.
In publishing my original post I was trying to highlight how easy it is for facts to get in the way of a good story and how that, thanks to the internet, stories could be fact checked a lot quicker than every before. Sitting in my living room with my laptop it had literally taken me 5 minutes to run a couple of Google searches in order to separate fact from fiction. If I could do that, why could the SMH? So that's what motivated me to site down and blast out my 2007 post. I sat down, I researched, I typed, I hit publish. I quoted and referenced sources where they were used. You know... all the things we'd probably have expected the SMH to do before they'd hit publish on their story.
Now, if you've read this far, you're probably thinking, 'thank you for your insightful overview of a single post you wrote way back in 2007, but what does that have to do with your Google penalty issue?'. Well, I'm glad you asked.
It's now the year 2012
Lets skip forward around 5 years. It's now early 2012 and the whole Meg White sex tape is old news, long since accepted as a hoax. My original post, however, is still sitting there in my archive. It's getting the occasional visit or two, most probably from people thinking it would lead them to an actual sex tape. I noticed around this time that Adsense ads had stopped appearing on my site. At first I thought it was a mistake on my part, a problem with my WordPress theme perhaps, or an addon interfering with some of the code. It wasn't until I logged in to my Adsense account that I saw the 'violation' notice.
Violation: Scraped content
Consequence: Ads disabled
Example URL: http://www.swollenpickles.com/2007/09/28/meg-white-sex-tape-a-hoax-a-fake-a-sham/
In the original notice it also said:
It is important for a site displaying AdSense to offer significant value to the user by providing unique and relevant content, and not to place ads on auto-generated pages or pages with little to no original content.
As I said at the start of this post, I'd made a lot of mistakes with this site. There are some posts I'd published that, in hindsight, I'm not hugely proud of (eg. my early camel toe click bait experiment are prime examples). At the same time though, there are others that I did invest more time and effort in to (eg. 10 tips to becoming a Make Money Online sheep) that I think turned out ok, and were of some level of use to people. I'd file the Meg White story as one of the posts I was proud of. Maybe it wasn't well written, maybe the page template looked crappy and maybe the idea I was trying to communicate was lost on all but a handful of people. I was proud that I felt like, in some way, I'd been able to highlight - even if only to a tiny audience - what I saw as being one of bigger problems facing journalism. This was a time where traditional media were trying to carve out their position online. In order to keep pace with the 'newer' social media channels traditional media were sourcing their news from non-traditional sources. This story was a prime example. It all spun out of a single forum post and went semi-viral quickly. Media, such as the SMH picked up on it and hit publish, seemingly without doing a solid background check in to the stories veracity. If they'd spent 10 minutes doing a Google search, they'd have found the same information that I'd found and presented in my original post.
I'll repeat it. I sat down, I researched, I typed, I hit publish. I quoted and referenced sources where they were used. I think that's why I took offence to the Google email that suggested the content was scraped (eg. automatically cut/pasted from another website). Being told by Google that they thought that a post I'd spent my time and effort on, something that - to a degree - I was proud of, was scraped from somewhere else, left me feeling insulted. Once I calmed down, I sat down and wrote up my appeal (following their appeals process). Seeing as though I knew with 100% certainty that I'd written the post, I thought I was a certainty to get the ban lifted. Yes, I was naive. A day later I received, what I hope was, an automated reply.
"Thank you for providing us with additional information about your site. However, after thoroughly reviewing swollenpickles.com and taking your feedback into consideration, we're unable to re-enable ad serving to your site at this time, as your site appears to still be in violation."
Figuring that I had received an automated reply I tried again. After a couple more failed appeals, and getting the feeling that I wasn't actually corresponding with a human, and having seen my earnings nose dive, I gave up. Not proud of it, but it happened. At the time, it was all too hard, I had a lot of other stuff on, and it felt like I was achieving nothing. So I walked away, and left everything to rot on the digital vine.
Cut to the present day (2016)
Skip forward another 4 years. I'm still paying for the domain name and I'm still paying for hosting. People are still visiting the site, albeit in smaller numbers than at its peak. My Adsense account has practically flat lined. Swollen Pickles is failing in it's number 1 objective, generate enough revenue to keep itself alive. So with another 4 years life experience I decided to give another appeal a shot. This time, I receive this response:
After looking through our records, we have found that your AdSense account is currently active.
This was a positive start, but when I logged in to my adsense account it still said I had a site level violation and ad serving was disabled on swollenpickles.com. My account was fine, but the 'offending' post was apparently still causing offence. A tad frustrated I decided that I'd just delete the 'offending' post. The post that I'd written in 2007. The post that sat online for 5 years with out issue until that day in early 2012 that, for whatever reason, it caught the eye of the Googlebot. Once it was deleted, I resubmitted my appeal. Finally, success. Ban lifted. Ads back online. Everyone's happy.
After four long years in the digital wilderness...
Reflecting on it all a few days later I was thinking about everything that had happened - that I've probably done a poor job of describing here - and how I felt about it all. On the one hand, I'm happy and grateful that they've lifted the ban on my domain. On the other hand, I'm not so happy that in order for 'them' to to so, I had to delete something that I was accused of copying/scraping/stealing (whatever term you want to use) when I knew that it was of born from my own work and research. It's the equivalent of admitting guilt to a crime that you know you didn't commit. I'm not sure what other option I had though. I feel like I could have been stuck in an appeals loop for centuries and I'm still not convinced that any of my appeals were looked at properly by a human, and if they were, they definitely weren't sharing any information as to how they'd arrived at their conclusion.
The ultimate irony in all this? My site, was disqualified for displaying Adsense ads for around four years because of a single post that was allegedly scraped from elsewhere. In the mean time, the SMH article - you remember, the 'news story' that started it all - is still online (as of writing this), in all it's 'factually incorrect' and misleading glory. If you do happen to look at that article, pay particular attention to what is sitting around that 'news story', scroll down a little, I'm sure you'll find it... there it is... "Ads by Google". I am really not sure what to take away from that.
Note: For anyone interested, you can view a screen shot of the offending article in all it's 2007 glory below (click to expand). Took the screen shot via the Wayback Machine, which for some reason has set apostrophes to weird characters, but besides that, it's how it looked way back in December 2011. I think it's fairly obvious that it was written by a human (aka. me)