The story about the Conservapedia site statistics that would prove that conservatives are completely obsessed with homosexuality has been making its way around the blogosphere, and it probably isn't true.
The Conservapedia site statistics, as they're being reported around the internet, are as follows:
- Main Page? [1,906,729]
- Homosexuality? [1,572,713]
- Homosexuality and Hepatitis? [517,086]
- Homosexuality and Promiscuity? [420,687]
- Gay Bowel Syndrome? [389,052]
- Homosexuality and Parasites? [388,123]
- Homosexuality and Domestic Violence? [365,888]
- Homosexuality and Gonorrhea? [331,553]
- Homosexuality and Mental Health? [291,179]
- Homosexuality and Syphilis? [265,322]
When I first saw this, it didn't ring true to me, since evangelicals aren't saying that gays are the number one issue
anymore and even their out-of-touch, gay-obsessed, self-proclaimed leaders say that abortion is more important
After closer examination of the numbers, it seems like the work of an internet prankster, not an actual slice of the conservative's mind. If you're like me and not a computer geek, follow me after the jump to learn a little about how the internet works and why something like this is almost impossible.
The first big quirk about the statistics is that homosexuality is actually competing with the main page in terms of hits. While that's entirely possible, it's definitely not probable. Most websites' main page is way more popular than any specific-content. Wikipedia's main page receives around 73 times more hits than the most popular entry, according to their site statistics. Our main page here at the Project is, since the relaunch in July, 32 times more popular than the most popular blog post. The fact that the "Homosexuality" page is about a fifth less popular than the main page is a big ol' red flag. Are around 80% of the people who visit Conservapedia checking out the "Homosexuality" page each time they visit? Or are that page and all the other homosexuality-related pages just that good that search engines find them faster and other sites are just linking them like there's no tomorrow without linking the main page?
The second big quirk is the composition of the list - it centers around the topic of homosexuality, includes obscure topics like "Homosexuality and gonorrhea" and "Homosexuality and domestic violence" and excludes other controversial topics' central pages like abortion, evolution, the Bible, and major politicians, and even the closely related "Transgender activism". The "Homosexuality and hepatitis" page, supposedly #3, according to a web-smart blogger "is short and has been in existence only since October 17. There's no way something like that would a legitimate third-most popular page, even for raving homophobes." The "Homosexuality and gonorrhea", the reported #8, page is almost nothing.
And yet their "Abortion" page is long and filled with the cutting-edge of anti-woman pseudo-science. Their "Theory of Evolution" page is filled with useless junk science that those folks eat up. And their "Hillary Rodham Clinton" page is definitely worth visiting, if for nothing else other than the fact that it's huge (for Conservapedia) and filled with everything a wingnut needs to know to hate her. All of these, and many more, have obviously received more attention in writing, and therefore more hits, than any of the homosexuality pages.
So the reported traffic most likely isn't coming from loyal main page visitors, and it most likely isn't coming from referrers, so what about the third main source of web-traffic, search engines?
Well, probably not that either. While obscure topics like "Homosexuality and hepatitis" and "Homosexuality and gonorrhea" show up pretty high in the Google results when searched, so do "Theory of Evolution", "Creationism", and "Bias in Wikipedia", and they're more likely to be searched for, if for no other reason than their generality.
Also, the reported popular pages don't strike me as things people would Google. If someone were a gay man and looking for health information about those topics, he'd most likely use "gay", "men", or just the disease itself instead of "homosexuality". And if a homophobe were looking up diseases on Google to hate gay men for, then wouldn't she or he be much more likely to look up HIV, for which Conservapedia, unfortunately, shows up quite high in the results?
Add to that that search engine traffic can't explain the most popular list since "Homosexuality and mental health" doesn't turn up Conservapedia anywhere in the first hundred results.
This leaves one possible source for all those hits: Bots! This isn't something I know much about, but I do know that depending on how you're counting statistics, they can show up as hits and skew what content you think people are reading on a site. And considering the following information from the Internet Archives that a commenter on the link above summarized:
Turns out we have snapshots of the Conservapedia Statistics page dating back to December 2006. I grabbed all the data it had, typed it into a spreadsheet, and looked at the chart.
The giveaway is the "Homosexuality" page itself. That page was getting 30,000 pageviews a month from March 15 to July 15. That's consistent with the 40,000/month rate it had from March 6 to March 15, shortly after it was created.
Then from July 15 to today, Nov. 22, it got 350,000 pageviews/month, an increase of 11 times. That's especially not believable considering that the Main Page on Conservapedia got only 125,000 pageviews/month during that same period (which is just a slight increase over its March-July rate).
The "Homosexuality" page from March to July, the most recent period available, got 13.9% as many pageviews as "Main Page." But from July to November it got 281% as many.
And as you point out, Seth, since "Homosexuality and Hepatitis" was created on Oct. 17, we know its 517,753 pageviews arrived in those 37 days, or 420,000 pageviews/month. It's not believable that since Oct. 17 that one small page has been 338% as popular as the Conservapedia Main Page.
Webpages don't suddenly get ten times more hits than normal and then maintain that level of popularity for several months. And any increase in popularity of part of Conservapedia would definitely spill over to other pages on that site. An internet prankster setting up a bot is the most likely explanation for all that traffic. Congrats on tricking a bunch of us, including me, internet prankster!
We need to know what we're working against to work properly against it, and, as attractive as it may be, we're not the thought that's always on even the most reactionary of the Religious Right's minds. The most deluded ones still care about abortion, putting prayer in schools, taking evolution out of schools, and hating Hillary Clinton.