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Times Online has blamed a rogue individual at its search engine optimisation contractor Sitelynx for the link spam campaign that rained digital derision upon the UK's oldest daily national newspaper today.

Speaking to The Reg, annoyed-sounding Times Online search editor Drew Broomhall denied that the site had any knowledge of what was being done in its name. "We would never condone this type of activity," he said. "It's not effective and it doesn't help anyone."

Piotr Wyspianski, a manager at Sitelynx, was revealed on the Waxy.org blog to have waged a one-man campaign to game web aggregation communities such as Metafilter and StumbleUpon with over a thousand links to Times Online stories. Before working for Sitelynx, he had form for a similar astroturfing effort for his own online jewellery store.

Predictably, the Waxy.org story has hit the front page of Digg and some Diggers have piled in to condemn Times Online, blaming a conspiracy by the original Digger himself. "I haven't respected The Times since Murdoch bought it, since that effectively means I can no longer trust its content. Fuck you old man!" wrote one.

Broomhall told us he couldn't understand why a Sitelynx employee would have taken it on himself to target social news sites. "There's nothing you need to do artificially promote stories in social sites, it's best to just let the users find things naturally. Like most news sites, we get plenty of links that way.

"Writers sometimes submit their own stories, but that's normal."

Broomhall went on to condemn any kind of link spamming. "The majority of the work we do is just in the page to make sure it's picked up [by automated search crawlers]."

According to Broomhall, Sitelynx has assured Times Online it had no knowledge of Wyspianski's activities, but he said he didn't know if the two firms' ongoing relationship will be affected by the embarrassment. ®

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