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Rick Santorum Google Problem: Presidential Campaign Produces More Favorable Search Results

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Rick Santorum may not have done well enough in Michigan to necessarily forestall some sort of "Romney bounce" between now and Super Tuesday, but did you know that, in many ways, Rick Santorum has already won? Well, in one way, anyway.

Seems that Santorum's long-standing "Google problem" is now but a mere "Google inconvenience." As Amy Bingham of ABC News reports, "After years during which people got a vulgar term for anal sex as their first result when they searched the word 'Santorum,' the site responsible for the prank has been bumped out of Google's top five results." And all he had to do is run for president and get his name mentioned in the 24-hours hype-cycle for a year.

Santorum's problem vis-à-vis Google began in 2003, when one particular set of his anti-gay comments earned the ire of syndicated sex columnist and LGBT activist Dan Savage. Savage mounted a campaign to associate Santorum's name with "a sex act that would make his big, white teeth fall out of his big, empty head." Eventually, Savage settled on naming the by-product of a sex act after Santorum, established a website called "Spreading Santorum" that carried the definition, and let thousands of links to the site -- and Google's search algorithm -- do the rest of the work.

The result? For years, Savage's site has been the first result returned in a search for the word "santorum."

For quite some time thereafter, Santorum pleaded with Google to do something about this, but Google repeatedly explained that the company did not make a practice of "remov[ing] content from our search results, except in very limited cases such as illegal content and violations of our webmaster guidelines." And every time Santorum brought up his "Google problem," he only made it worse.

At this year's Conservative Political Action Conference, Santorum seemed to get along with the folks from Google just fine, perhaps because he was confident that his presidential campaign might solve this problem -- it was, after all, one of the things he'd hoped would happen when he ran for president. It would seem that he was more or less right. Today, if you Google "santorum," the results that come back are topped by his campaign website, followed by his Wikipedia entry.

The stickiness of Wikipedia remains a problem: "campaign for 'Santorum' neologism" is the third result on the page. And the Urban Dictionary's entry on the matter appears fifth. The original Dan Savage site is now found on the second page of results (though a different website that references Savage's site in its name remains on the top page of search results).

Of course, while Santorum's victory over Google is plainly evident, the degree to which Savage's bit of creative agitprop penetrated popular and political culture remains. On "The Daily Show," this campaign season's running joke has been Jon Stewart forswearing of "Santorum jokes" out of respect for the candidate's wishes, only to have to hold himself back every time news coverage of the campaign manages to call the Santorum neologism to mind accidentally. And you can find such cases everywhere. As long as newspapers are printing headlines like "Santorum comes from behind in Alabama three-way," a certain amount of tittering shall remain.

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