Algorithms

American Search-History X: Dinesh D'Souza Demands Better Google Results


Dinesh D'Souza at the 2014 Republican Leadership Conference in New Orleans

Photograph by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images

Dinesh D'Souza at the 2014 Republican Leadership Conference in New Orleans

For those cineastes who have spent the past couple of years puzzling over the mysteriously lackluster box-office performance of American Reunion—the fourth movie in the American Pie quadrilogy—conservative pundit Dinesh D’Souza may have just uncovered a surprising explanation. Perhaps confused search-engine algorithms are to blame.

Last week, D’Souza’s latest documentary, America, opened in theaters around the nation, and pulled in $2.7 million on its opening weekend, according to Box Office Mojo. That’s not terrible for a movie that is heavy on Saul Alinsky references and light on, say, intergalactic robot battles. But still, it’s less than half of the opening weekend results from D’Souza’s previous documentary, 2016: Obama’s America.

Who might be to blame for the sluggish turnout? Maybe, possibly, perhaps … Google (GOOG)?

Lawyers representing D’Souza’s film sent a letter this week to Google, according to the Hollywood Reporter, in which they demanded clarification of confusing search results about where and when the movie is playing. “The letter claims that Google has been confusing America with 2016: Obama’s America, which was D’Souza’s first movie and has been out of theaters for two years,” the Reporter noted, adding, “It demands that Google disclose ‘whether human or automated error was the source’ of the alleged mistakes and asks ‘what measures have been taken to fix the problem.’”

The letter to Google was apparently triggered, in part, by fans on the film’s Facebook page alleging that confusing search-engine results about the film could be part of a broader liberal conspiracy to interfere with D’Souza’s anti-Obama message. So far, Google has not responded. But the letter has raised awareness of an underappreciated problem: the growing glut of movies with “America” or “American” in the title.

A quick search reveals that, in addition to D’Souza’s films and the aforementioned American Pie movies, there is no shortage of potentially confusing competition: Captain America: The Winter Soldier, Captain America: The First Avenger, Maid in America, Coming to America, In America, Team America, Once Upon a Time in America, Air America, God Bless America, America America, Into the Americas, and Battlefield America (to name just a few). All are jostling around for spare attention from wayward search-engine users armed with a couple of vague keywords.

As a result, future filmmakers hoping to win the SEO-driven competition for eyeballs might want to steer clear of America-inspired titles for a while. In the meantime, we expect that lawyers for America, the 2009 TV movie starring Rosie O’Donnell—not to be confused with America, the 1986 comedy starring Richard Belzer, or America, the 1924 drama starring Neil Hamilton—are already polishing up their own letter of complaint to Google. Somebody please call Matt Cutts back from vacation.

Gillette_190
Gillette is a staff writer for Bloomberg Businessweek in New York.

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