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Website>> Water utility • The US
According to The Los Angeles Times, a Californian water utility paid nearly US $200,000 for glowing coverage on a website that boosted its profile on Google.
The newspaper reports that officials from the Central Basin Municipal Water District used public funds to hire a consulting firm affiliated with a professional-looking website, News Hawks Review, to produce and post promotional stories “written in the image of real news”. The utility used the stories to boost its ranking on Google, which classified News Hawks Review as a news site.
Google removed the site from its search index following publication of the news, saying it violated its guidelines. The website had published over 30 glowing stories about the utility in the past year. Central Basin spokesperson told The Los Angeles Times the campaign had helped bring more web traffic to the utility’s website. Terry Francke of non-profit Californians Aware told the newspaper that the utility engaged in a breach of the public trust.
The utility has a history of bad press coverage, stemming from investigations into allegedly misused travel expenses and corruption.