Seth Persily’s private war on Nathan Deal’s reputation

Seth Woodard Persily didn’t like what he saw in Nathan Deal’s TV ads this summer.

So the Atlanta lawyer and public relations specialist has declared a private war on the Republican nominee for governor. Persily is out to sabotage Deal’s reputation on the Internet.

There is reason to believe that he is succeeding in his effort to make sure that every time Google sees the words “Nathan Deal,” the world-changing search engine offers up the word “ethics.”

Left to right: Nathan Woodard-Persily, Caitlin Woodard Persily, Brittany Woodard Persily, and Seth Woodard Persily, all of Atlanta.

Left to right: Nathan Woodard-Persily, Caitlin Woodard Persily, Brittany Woodard Persily, and Seth Woodard Persily, all of Atlanta.

It may be the first campaign of its kind, one that opens an entire new field of worry for political candidates.

Perhaps more important, it is a low-cost area of activism open to any small group of people with access to a computer, a keyboard and time. Persily insists he is acting as a private citizen, not on behalf of the rival campaigns of Democrat Roy Barnes or of Libertarian John Monds.

The first thing you need to know about Persily is that he is the gay father of two, joined in a Piedmont Park marriage ceremony two years ago to his partner Nathan.

Persily also sits on the board of directors of YouthPride of Atlanta, an organization dedicated to providing a social venue for gay and lesbian teens, and to the prevention of teen suicide.

On Aug. 5, near the end of his bitter primary runoff against former secretary of state Karen Handel, Deal launched a TV spot alleging that Handel at one time supported domestic partnership benefits for gay couples.

The same ad pointed to Handel’s support, while on the Fulton County Commission, for funding directed to YouthPride. Deal condemned YouthPride as “a group that promotes homosexuality among teenagers as young as 13.”

So Persily had two reasons to be angry.

The second thing you need to know about Persily is that he is the executive vice president of Penn Multimedia, a 2-year-old Atlanta firm that specializes in the relatively new field of reputation management — especially on the Internet.

So when Persily gets angry, he has options.

Usually, he uses his powers for good. Say a company has been forced to issue a recall on a faulty widget — a move that produces a certain amount of bad press and a viral YouTube video.

Making a difference on Google is always the prime target.

“We flood the Internet with positive results so that video or bad review or that column is no longer in the top 10 [search] results,” Persily said. “Well over 90 percent of people will never go to the second page of Google. If you can control what’s on that first page of Google, it doesn’t really matter what people are saying about you anywhere else — because no one will ever see it.”

Going after Deal was something new for Persily.

“I’ve never tried to harm someone’s reputation. This is a first for us,” he said. “We’ve always been in the business of cleaning people’s reputations up.”

What Persily has targeted is not the hyperlinked search results you get after punching the words “Nathan Deal” into Google. Given the search engine’s secret algorithms, manipulation of those results is nearly impossible.

Persily has attempted something slightly more subtle.

When you type any search term into Google, the search engine immediately suggests a number of additional words. Whenever “Nathan Deal” is now typed into a Google search panel, the first suggested word is “ethics.” Second is “vs. Karen Handel.” And third is “bio.”

Anyone who accepts Google’s first suggestion will be offered page after page of articles about an investigation conducted by the Office of Congressional Ethics into allegations that, as a congressman, Deal pressured state officials to protect a private salvage business in which he was a partner.

Persily makes no claim that he created the Google connection. Only that he has encouraged it — to make sure that “ethics” stays No. 1.

He and a dozen Georgia volunteers have employed two tactics. Across the Internet, they have posted dozens of articles, dozens of times, in dozens of places, that include the words “ethics” and “Nathan Deal.”

The articles don’t have to be about Deal. They don’t even have to be read. They just have to include the name of the north Georgia congressman, and the word “ethics.”

Secondly, during spare moments through the day, whether at home or in the office, Persily and his allies go to Google and type “Nathan Deal ethics” time and time again.

This is more than a case of smoke and mirrors.

“It’s conceivable. I wouldn’t be very surprised if something like this worked,” said Guy Lebanon, assistant professor at Georgia Tech with a specialty in machine learning and knowledge management.

The key to manipulating a Google search suggestion, Lebanon said, would be the widespread distribution of Deal-ethics articles across the Web, and to make sure that “Nathan-Deal-ethics” searches arose from many disparate locations rather than a single source.

The Deal campaign said it was aware of Persily’s activities, understood the importance of reputation management, and was adopting counter-measures —saturating the Internet with positive articles about the Republican nominee for governor.

“As the frontrunner, we have to expect liberals to attack us. And they have to expect to be attacked in return,” said Brian Robinson, spokesman for the Deal campaign.

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132 comments Add your comment

Matt D.

September 15th, 2010
6:04 pm

“Persily insists he is acting as a private citizen, not on behalf of the rival campaigns of Democrat Roy Barnes or of Libertarian John …”

Yeah, I believe that. I also believe the sun will rise in the west tomorrow and set in the east. I believe that the check is in the mail and that Santa Claus will come and leave me lots of presents this Christmas. I believe in the Easter Bunny . . .

bushwacker

September 15th, 2010
6:12 pm

He’s obviously a democratic hack doing what democrats do, just like Branes’ ad’s,when they cannot argue the issues the try to demonize their opponent.

Only it does not work anymore, THE DEMS ARE IN SERIOUS TROUBLE when one candidate is about to be foreclosed on or file bankruptcy BUT STILL LEADS THE DEM candidate by 11%.

Its all over for the libs, the people have had enough of the RULING CLASS ignoring the people!

No Deal

September 15th, 2010
6:14 pm

Persily should be commended for his efforts. Nobody is more susceptible to corruption than a politician with financial problems. You can’t trust a man with a history of ethics violations to not use his office for personal gain. How would it look to the rest of the nation if Georgia would elect an individual that is bankrupt to lead our state?

No Deal

September 15th, 2010
6:17 pm

As far as polls go, this story just broke. A lot of Republicans are now re-thinking their support for Deal. Deal should step down. Karen Handel may have a fighting chance still.

Reality

September 15th, 2010
6:21 pm

Yeah, it’s totally a stretch to think that a gay man would appose some one that hates gays and wants to deny them their rights on his own. That would never happen, some one must be paying him. Morons.

BadDeal

September 15th, 2010
6:24 pm

“Sunlight Is The Best Disinfectant” The more people know about Deal’s ethics, the more likely they won’t make the mistake voting for him. Just today we find out that Deal had been doing business with Community Bank & Trust in Cornelia, GA, which was shut down and sold earlier this year for , yeah you guessed it, “Unethical” lending practices.

Reality

September 15th, 2010
6:24 pm

*oppose … d@mn-it.

Dave

September 15th, 2010
6:30 pm

Fair tactic or not, Rep. Deal is ethically challenged. And, what’s up with “[a]s the frontrunner, we have to expect liberals to attack us. And they have to expect to be attacked in return,” said Brian Robinson, spokesman for the Deal campaign.” The Deal campaign is going after the guy?

CB

September 15th, 2010
6:32 pm

I just love the fact that the guy makes his living “covering up” bad press for companies – like defective products that could/have injured someone, covering up corporate scandals that would affect the company, etc., yet, he thinks that his work is “noble” – BS!

This guy is a corporate hack who makes his living covering up the things that companies don’t want the citizenry to see/know…not a big shock that he supports Roy Barnes.

Matt D.

September 15th, 2010
6:43 pm

CB: Birds of a feather, so to speak.

Party On!

September 15th, 2010
6:43 pm

likely in the pocket of barnes and his camp–for big money!

Georgia was better when Roy was in office

September 15th, 2010
6:43 pm

Who said he was a Barne’s supporter. The article didn’t say it. I do assume that he will support Barnes, but that does not appear to be his motive or main motive. He is mad about Deal’s stances on gays and the commercials.

v8 cat

September 15th, 2010
6:49 pm

Deal = scumbag.Don’t tell me anybody would consider voting for this hypocrite.

The Goobernator

September 15th, 2010
6:57 pm

@bushwacker: People are tired of Conservatives as the RULING CLASS ignoring the people.

I love Deal Dweeb, Brian Robinson, his threat, “we have to expect liberals to attack us. And they have to expect to be attacked in return,” Boy that’s great Brian, very mature but NOT what I want from a leader. I want someone NOT tossing labels out like some junior high bully. Deal has no clue how to lead, he just smears lies and hate…LIBERALLY!

I can see Russia from my house

September 15th, 2010
7:05 pm

Nathan, come on up to Alaska and help me keep an eye on the Russians. You can put your shoes under my bed anytime, you sexy thang! You betcha!

E

September 15th, 2010
7:07 pm

Give em hell Seth!!!!

Marcos

September 15th, 2010
7:15 pm

Good for him. I am sick and tired of right wing conservatives like Deal preaching personal responsibility while unable to control their own lives. So hypocritical. So pathetic.

AngryVoter

September 15th, 2010
7:33 pm

Maybe I’ll change my name to “none of the above” so I can win this race.

Seriously, no matter how bad Deal might be, his one redeaming quality is he’s not Barnes. The Dems must be feeling pretty silly for having nominated him at this point, as they could have easily won this time had they nominated someone who hasn’t already failed.

Gay People Fight Back

September 15th, 2010
7:38 pm

I’m so happy to see gay people fighting back. The commercials that Nathan Deal’s campaign ran were reprehensible. It was truly sickening the way Deal attacked YouthPride and domestic partnership benefits. Deal is getting EXACTLY what he deserves.

Burroughston Broch

September 15th, 2010
7:50 pm

There are more substantial issues at stake than yet another offended gay rights zealot.

frugal voter

September 15th, 2010
7:52 pm

I guess it is time for me to start typing ” Nathan Deal sleaze” into the Google search engine.
Top ten here we come!!

rooster

September 15th, 2010
7:53 pm

Does Deal suffer from multiple personality disorder? Why does he constantly use the first-person plural when referring to himself? Is it possible only one of his personalities is ethically challenged?

frugal voter

September 15th, 2010
7:56 pm

It appears that Roy’s gubernatorial ambition is altruistic. And Deal’s ambition is to get free housing before he’s foreclosed upon. And, as a life long Republican, I am sorry to have to vote Democrat to keep this sleaze out of any house…congressional or otherwise.

This is a substantive issue

September 15th, 2010
7:56 pm

I take it from your comments Mr. Broch, that you are not gay.

I know Nathan Deal

September 15th, 2010
7:59 pm

And he will do anything, ANYTHING, to get elected. Furthermore, people like Deal, who strike out at gay people, usually have some sort of homosexual issues of their own that they are dealing with.

Michael

September 15th, 2010
8:01 pm

Persily is the same kind of public relations guy that BP hires to clean up the internet, plant positive stuff, and then claim the green crown again. Deal is just corrupt, bankrupt and republican. Wait, that’s redundant.

What did the Cox employee say at the Debate

September 15th, 2010
8:05 pm

Atlanta has been voted most homo frienly city, more than even San Francisco. Kasim Reed, Coleman of the DeKalb BOE to name a few others that the agenda has bestowed on Atlanta. I’m sure they are in the middle of the APS coup. This is all orchestrated by Attorney Brock and the “for sale” Towery. Its the reason GA remains last in education.

atlanta mom

September 15th, 2010
8:06 pm

Hard to say which suggestion will come up first on google now:
Nathan Deal ethics
or
Nathan Deal bankruptcy

And why would anyone think this is anything other than a family matter?

bart

September 15th, 2010
8:07 pm

Deal is a racist, a bigot, a crook, stupid, unethical, homophobic, and has displayed horrible judgment. He would force your 12 year olds who were raped and impregnated to carry the rapist’s baby. He has said he is willing to look at secession. Of course, he’ll be elected by the GA voters.

No where near!

September 15th, 2010
8:15 pm

Can Coach Bobo! Oh wrong blog, anyway, maybe someone should flood the internet with Persily and Homo! Every time you type in Homo you get Persily! Slander at it’s best!

ethics or bankruptcy

September 15th, 2010
8:17 pm

atlanta mom, i’m guessing it’ll be a 1-2 punch on google now. and you know what, Deal will still win. the two biggest phrases associated with our next governor are ethics and bankruptcy. you gotta love Georgia.

Matt D.

September 15th, 2010
8:24 pm

My, my, this is a testy bunch!

Michael said, “Deal is just corrupt, bankrupt and republican. Wait, that’s redundant.”
I think one could safely say that you aren’t a Republican.

Bart said, “Deal is a racist, a bigot, a crook, stupid, unethical, homophobic, and has displayed horrible judgment.” I think it’s safe to say that you will be voting for Barnes.

So, we have two democrats that aren’t voting for Deal. What a shock! This is definitely “above the fold front page news”!

Nowm in the privacy of your respective homes, practice saying, “Governor Deal”.

atlanta mom

September 15th, 2010
8:24 pm

@ethics or bankruptcy
But he feels our pain

No Longer Republican

September 15th, 2010
8:26 pm

Fantastic! I applaud his efforts! We do not need this crook as our next governor. Eight years of Sonny has just about ruined this state, a Deal administration would finish it off!

Georgia female

September 15th, 2010
8:36 pm

Let’s see what else we can say against Nathan Deal. The Democrats are having a field day with our liberal media. Where is Roy????? What are you going to say about him????? probably acolades of some kind.
I support Mr. Deal all the way in November!!!!!!!!

Fake Deal plant commentor

September 15th, 2010
8:43 pm

The Democrats are having a field day with our liberal media. I support Mr. Deal all the way in November!

bart

September 15th, 2010
8:51 pm

Matt D., you are correct. I am a Handel supporter who will hold my nose and vote for Barnes. It is amazing to me that anybody would vote for Deal. He is crooked, shows poor judgement, is a bigot, is unethical, has espoused secession, and is stupid. Why would I vote for Deal?

Burroughston Broch

September 15th, 2010
8:51 pm

@ This is a substantive issue.
My sexual orientation is not relevant. Whether Mr. Barnes or Mr. Deal does or does not pander to gays is not a substantive issue. Among substantive issues are education, taxes, transportation, reducing the size of state government, and dealing with the under-funded state pension system.

Lily

September 15th, 2010
8:52 pm

Matt D., you are correct. I am a Handel supporter who will hold my nose and vote for Barnes. It is amazing to me that anybody would vote for Deal. He is crooked, shows poor judgement, is a bigot, is unethical, has espoused secession, and is stupid. Why would I vote for Deal?

we can do better

September 15th, 2010
9:02 pm

We have got to stop putting country bumpkins in office if Georgia is ever to rise above the Deals and Richardsons that have run this state for WAY too long.

td

September 15th, 2010
9:03 pm

On one hand we have a man that was trying to help his daughter and son in law have the American dream of being a business owner, company went under and now he has to pay back the loans. On the other hand, we have an ex governor that sued his own state to allow illegals, convicted felons and others not qualified to vote sneak in the polls, vote and mess with the integrity of our election system (while costing the state millions to defend and making a profiting himself).

Barnes has already proven he can not be trusted in his first term by lying to the teachers and to the southern culture movement. I think the choice is clear and the average voting is going to vote for Deal.

Deal staffer

September 15th, 2010
9:24 pm

Wow, looks like I’m gonna get lots of overtime pay this evening.

Deal staf----uh, Patriotic Hardworking Non-Swishy Georgian

September 15th, 2010
9:27 pm

I’m voting for Deal, and so is everyone I know! The groundswell of support is amazing! Go Governor Deal!!!111!!!!!

From PeachPundit

September 15th, 2010
9:29 pm

Nathan Deal was a partner in the failed business venture, not just a poor sap for helping out his daughter and son-in-law. His handlers are attempting to put the best spin possible on his business activities, but he was in the deal to make money. For those of you who know how to look up on-line superior court clerk deed records, go to Habersham County Deed Book 839 pages 641-49 and see the transaction details. Nathan and his wife, not his daughter or son-in-law, borrowed $2.4 million on 2-1-2008 for land and building that’s now valued at $725,000.Their bank payment was $15,000 a month and they had a rental agreement with the business to pay rent. The business was in the middle of nowhere and sold high-dollar outdoors equipment, clothing, and hunting/fishing supplies. For example, they offered a fancy fly rod and reel for $4,000. I doubt they sold many. Folks in NE Georgia shop at WalMart for these type items. The rich dandies that occassionally come through on their way to Highlands just didn’t spend enough dough there. And we want this guy to lead our State out of the Great Recession? Get Real, say NO to Deal.

Amy in the ATL

September 15th, 2010
9:29 pm

Deal really opened up his own can of worms with those absolutely reprehensible ads against Karen Handel. Did he really NEED to throw out the anti-gay agenda to win the primary? Last time I checked, hate is not a family value. And if you hate like that, you deserve a little mud slung back at you. I’m just sorry Handel didn’t win so we could hopefully be having a more productive election.

SpaceyG

September 15th, 2010
9:41 pm

The gays can take a few days off and rest from their efforts to sabotage the Deal campaign. Seems Deal and the Deal Family Dream, LLC are imploding nicely all on their own, with a little help from the entire GA press corps now, given today’s news. I’m sure there is even more to, er, come out (pardon… it just typed-out that way) in these last few weeks before the election too.

This is all soooo much better’n TV!

atlmom

September 15th, 2010
9:42 pm

Votemonds.com

Substantive Issue

September 15th, 2010
10:06 pm

@ Burroughston Broch

For you, your orientation might be irrelevant. However, if you and you family and your friends’ families were under attack by the ethically challenged Nathan Deal, it might matter just a little bit more. Deal is a weak, immoral rascal not to mention a bigot. Trust me, I know him. I know him well.

Matt D is wrong again

September 15th, 2010
10:08 pm

Hey Matt, I’m thinking you might be right about Nathan Deal serving a term or two. But I don’t think “Governor” will be his title. More like “Inmate.”

Ray

September 15th, 2010
10:09 pm

Can’t Deal use some of that $300k/yr he stole from the taxpayer while he was drinking his way through DC?

Idiot makes ‘w’ look like a rocket scientist…