Huffpost Politics
Jason Linkins Headshot

Rick Santorum Apparently Contacted Google About His Google Problem (And In So Doing, Worsened It)

Posted: Updated:

Remember Rick Santorum? (He is running for president.) Well, in some Rick Santorum "news" of the oddly sourced variety, we learn that the former Pennsylvania senator has "contacted Google" to try to deal with his well known "Google problem."

I say "oddly sourced" because here is the Politico article about it, and as you can see, the headline reads "Rick Santorum contacted Google, says company spreads 'filth,'" and then, in the final paragraph, you have this sentence: "Santorum has acknowledged his widely covered 'Google problem' in the past, but his contact with the company is a newer development," and those are the two mentions of him contacting Google. The reader is sort of left with many questions, like, "Who contacted Google from the Santorum campaign?" and "Who did the Santorum campaign reach at Google?" Both of which are the sorts of questions you traditionally answer in an article about Rick Santorum contacting Google. (I suppose I should assume it came up as an unproduced part of this interview.)

For those of you who don't know about Rick Santorum's Google Problem and don't have the time to just Google "Rick Santorum," it all began when Santorum, as is his wont, spoke out against homosexuality and said things like this back in 2003:

"We have laws in states, like the one at the Supreme Court right now, that has sodomy laws and they were there for a purpose. Because, again, I would argue, they undermine the basic tenets of our society and the family. And if the Supreme Court says that you have the right to consensual sex within your home, then you have the right to bigamy, you have the right to polygamy, you have the right to incest, you have the right to adultery. You have the right to anything. Does that undermine the fabric of our society? I would argue yes, it does."

And:

"That's not to pick on homosexuality. It's not, you know, man on child, man on dog, or whatever the case may be."

Syndicated sex columnist and LGBT activist Dan Savage didn't look kindly on any of this, and so he started a campaign to turn Santorum's surname into a sexual neologism. That campaign yielded "that frothy mixture of lube and fecal matter that is sometimes the byproduct of anal sex" as the word's definition and a website highlighting this was born. The website was subsequently linked to thousands of times, causing it to leap to the top of any search for the word "Santorum" or the name "Rick Santorum."

Politico reports today that Santorum believes "Google could do something to remedy the issue, if the company wanted to," and the fact that they haven't yet leads him to believe Google is biased against him, saying, "I suspect if something was up there like that about Joe Biden, they'd get rid of it."

Google, responding to either Santorum or Politico or both -- again, it's not clear who -- says that it does not "remove content from our search results, except in very limited cases such as illegal content and violations of our webmaster guidelines," and that it's up to the site's webmaster to remove the site itself.

Over at Talking Points Memo, Evan McMorris-Santoro speaks to a search engine expert, Danny Sullivan of SearchEngineLand, who points out that Google has taken steps to get politicians out of harm's way of a "Google bomb." Yet Sullivan says that's not what's happening here:

In a classic Googlebombing -- which Google did crack down on when it was used to tie searches for "miserable failure" to George W. Bush back during the Republicans administration -- pranksters tricked Google's algorithm into sending (for lack of a better term) the "wrong" results for a search. An example could be you entered "apple" in the Google bar and got back a page about bananas thanks to people purposefully tricking the algorithm.

"Google said 'we don't like people kind of spraying graffitti all over our results,'" Sullivan said of the Googlebomb. "So they instituted a fix." Basically, an improved algorithm was rolled out that could combat the Googlebomb practice.

This is not what happened to Santorum, Sullivan explained. Savage literally created a new definition for the word "Santorum" and then made a website explaining it. That explanation has become accepted and -- "in some quarters," Sullivan said -- a topic people actually go searching for when they enter santorum into Google.

One of the reasons the "Spreading Santorum" site ranks so high on Google is because Savage's site has thousands and thousands more inbound links than Santorum's official site does. When Mother Jones' Stephanie Mencimer reported on this a year ago, the website for Santorum's PAC "America's Foundation" was losing out, 5,000 inbound links to 13,000.

Right now, Santorum's campaign website suffers from a similar fate -- it's fourth in the search ranking, behind the fake site, Santorum's Wikipedia entry, and the Wikipedia entry on the fake site. The fact that the latter Wikipedia site ranks so high suggests that the "Spreading Santorum" site will remain a problem for Santorum even if the site itself comes down -- absent the opportunity to link to the site itself, inbound links will accrue to that Wikipedia page, thus boosting its Google rank even higher.

That the Wikipedia editors have a page dedicated to Savage's activist site suggests that it has a certain amount of noteworthiness. Sullivan explains that this is what's keeping the site Santorum hates aloft:

"At this point there's nobody who could not argue [Savage's definition of santorum] is not a definition in a lot of quarters," Sullivan said. "So for him to say Google could get rid of it would be like him saying, 'I don't like the word unicorn and I think that that definition should go away.'"

So, Santorum probably should not have talked to Politico about this, because every time he does, he renews its relevance. At any rate, Santorum can bring his grievances directly to Google CEO Executive Chairman Eric Schmidt, who will be attending Thursday night's debate, to be held in Florida and co-hosted by Fox News and Google.

[Would you like to follow me on Twitter? Because why not? Also, please send tips to tv@huffingtonpost.com -- learn more about our media monitoring project here.]

Around the Web

Rick Santorum: Google wouldn't be this mean to Joe Biden

Rick Santorum Complains of Gay 'Jihad' Against Him

Rick Santorum fighting for attention in South Carolina

  Obama Romney
Obama Romney
332 206
Obama leading
Obama won
Romney leading
Romney won
Popular Vote
33 out of 100 seats are up for election. 51 are needed for a majority.
Democrat leading
Democrat won
Holdover
Republican leading
Republican won
Democrats* Republicans
Current Senate 53 47
Seats gained or lost +2 -2
New Total 55 45
* Includes two independent senators expected to caucus with the Democrats: Angus King (Maine) and Sen. Bernie Sanders (Vt.).
All 435 seats are up for election. 218 are needed for a majority.
Democrat leading
Democrat won
Republican leading
Republican won
Democrats Republicans
Seats won 201 234
Click for Full Results