Santorum
Rick Santorum believes that Google is purposefully snubbing him by not changing search results. Image: Flickr / gageskidmore / CC-BY-SA

In the middle of 2003, sex-advice columnist Dan Savage started a website called “Spreading Santorum.” The website was intended to make a political statement and quickly rose to the top of search results for Santorum’s name. Now, Rick Santorum is accusing Google of slander for not altering the search results for his name.

Santorum’s Google problem

Rick Santorum is not well-liked by some. After making comments that gay marriage would be like marriage between “a man and a dog,” among other things, sex-advice columnist Dan Savage ran a contest on his blog to re-define “santorum.” Once the contest determined a sexual definition of “santorum,” Savage and his fans started the website spreadingsantorum.com and commenced a Google Bomb – trying purposefully to get the website to the top of results for that search. The effort worked, and spreadingsantorum.com was soon in the top three results for most searches including the word “Santorum.”

Google Bombs diffused

So-called Google Bombs are not something that the search provider has always been happy with. Since 2003, Google has made several changes to help diffuse potential abuses of its ranking algorithm. The rankings Google hands out to websites are based on everything from popularity to relevance of the information it provides. It is still possible to game the results of a search engine, but it is much more difficult and Google usually diffuses these ploys quickly. This diffusion, however, has not had much of an effect on the results for Santorum’s name. The furthest spreadingsantorum.com has dropped since 2003 is number five.

Santorum claims slander

With his eye on the Republican presidential nomination, Rick Santorum has resurrected his campaign against both Dan Savage and Google itself. Santorum has called spreadingsantorum.com “slanderous.” Santorum has also said that if Google wanted to do something about his search results, the company could. Santorum has also alluded to the fact that he believes Google’s refusal to alter search results for his name is a politically motivated move:

“I suspect if something was up there like that about Joe Biden, they’d get rid of it,” Santorum told Politico. “To have a business allow that type of filth to be purveyed through their Web site or through their system is something that they say they can’t handle but I suspect that’s not true.”

Google, however, points out that “santorum” is a phrase that has been effectively re-defined, and some people who search for that word are actually seeking the sexual information attached to the term, not the politician.

“Google’s search results are a reflection of the content and information that is available on the web. Users who want content removed from the Internet should contact the webmaster of the page directly.”

Sources

Washington Post: http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/blogpost/post/rick-santorum-asks-google-to-change-his-dan-savage-created-results/2011/09/21/gIQAvW19kK_blog.html
Politico: http://www.politico.com/news/stories/0911/63952.html
Talking Points Memo: http://2012.talkingpointsmemo.com/2011/09/search-engine-expert-rick-santorums-new-crusade-against-google-is-total-nonsense.php

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