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Is Santorum's "Google Problem" a Google Problem? 775

theodp writes "Fortune contributor Dan Mitchell argues that GOP presidential candidate Rick Santorum's 'Google problem' isn't Google's problem at all. 'The fact that searching for 'santorum' puts the profane, anti-Rick Santorum site (NSFW) at the top of Google's search results,' insists Mitchell, 'is not an example of a "Google bomb," despite the widespread use of that term to describe the result.' In the same camp is Search Engine Land's Danny Sullivan, who also says that Santorum has a search engine problem, not a Google problem. 'It's just that everyone fixates on Google,' Sullivan adds. Which is perhaps to be expected, since Google is the King of Search and also has ties to SpreadingSantorum creator Dan Savage, having featured the sex-advice columnist in Google's The-web-is-what-you-make-of-it Chrome ad campaign (for Savage's admirable It Gets Better Project, not SpreadingSantorum). So, considering Google's vaunted search quality guidelines, is some kind of change in order? Sullivan, while making it clear he opposes Santorum's views, nonetheless suggests Google is long overdue to implement a disclaimer for the 'Santorum' search results. 'They are going to confuse some people,' he explains, 'who will assume Google's trying to advance a political agenda with its search results.'"
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Is Santorum's "Google Problem" a Google Problem?

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  • Maybe... (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Monday February 13, 2012 @09:58AM (#39018269)

    ...they should try winning over hearts and minds (and clicks) instead of censoring something they find politically inexpedient.

    • Re:Maybe... (Score:5, Informative)

      by MacGyver2210 ( 1053110 ) on Monday February 13, 2012 @12:22PM (#39020191)

      The origin of the term 'Santorum'. From Dan Savage's "Savage Love" article May of 2003. []

      I encourage /.ers to read this, and note that it was created almost *NINE YEARS AGO* before calling out Savage for bashing a presidential candidate or calling Savage the bully.

  • Sounds like (Score:5, Funny)

    by eternaldoctorwho ( 2563923 ) on Monday February 13, 2012 @10:01AM (#39018291)
    the [] Santorum [] is [] surging [].
  • by RazzleFrog ( 537054 ) on Monday February 13, 2012 @10:08AM (#39018359)

    Santorum's biggest issue is not Google but his political policies. He appeals to a very small population of rural conservative religious voters. He has zero appeal to moderate republicans which means he could never get elected. I mean the fact that a washout like Mitt Romney is leading just lets you know how awful the Republican candidates are.

  • by ThreeGigs ( 239452 ) on Monday February 13, 2012 @10:08AM (#39018361)

    "Sullivan, while making it clear he opposes Santorum's views, nonetheless suggests Google is long overdue to implement a disclaimer for the 'Santorum' search results. 'They are going to confuse some people,' he explains, 'who will assume Google's trying to advance a political agenda with its search results.'""

    If Google _were_ to include a disclaimer, it would be pushing a political agenda. Unless the disclaimer was something like: "The search results below may indicate that the candidate of your choice is so hopelessly clueless about the web that they are unable to grab the top search result for their own name." Unless of course the Luddites now have a political party....

    • At least, that's the basic idea behind both Google and other engines: show results that aggregate the opinions or outlook of many people. Authoritative links are ones which many people use, useless links are one that no one uses.

      The whole thing with Santorum is that, actually, there is a very large segment of people that despise what he stands for. This group is at least competing with (if not more powerful than) the population of people that think he's a sane politician worth listening to.

      The disconnect here is mass media. According to the rules they have adopted, candidates are to be taken seriously when they hit a certain (small) proportion of support, at least if they are right-wing candidates, and open mockery or confrontation are simply not done. Hence, Santorum is a "real candidate" and shouldn't have this level of opposition.

      But that's not reality. I agree: a disclaimer would implicitly say that the voice of the people is political... which is rather obvious and useless, since it's always true.

  • Santorum's choice (Score:5, Insightful)

    by elrous0 ( 869638 ) * on Monday February 13, 2012 @10:09AM (#39018369)

    Rick Santorum has chosen, for whatever reason, to make gay marriage a centerpiece of his campaign. That's fine, and it certainly gets him a lot of mileage with the far right. But it also comes with a downside. When you chose to single out a particular group as your enemy, you're going to have to deal with them fighting back. And if humor is one of the few weapons they have, you can expect a lot of jokes. So man up and get over yourself. It's not like Dan Savage was the one who started this fight.

  • by otter42 ( 190544 ) on Monday February 13, 2012 @10:09AM (#39018371) Homepage Journal

    It is not a search engine's responsibility to police our neologisms. Santorum is a word now used by the common public, and it requires no editorializing by third parties. As the original article points out:

    The news is better for searches for Rick Santorum's full name, rather than just the word "santorum." In that case, his official site ranks tops.

    So in other words, if I'm looking for a person, I write the person's name in and find the person. If I'm looking for a thing, I type said thing in and find it.

    For example, would anybody be annoyed if a google search of the word "houston" showed Houston, TX as the first hit, instead of Whitney Houston?

    Now as to why Santorum and santorum came to be connected is another matter. But that's something for a different conversation, which the columnist fails to grasp.

  • Perspective (Score:5, Informative)

    by assertation ( 1255714 ) on Monday February 13, 2012 @10:12AM (#39018409)

    I think to have this issue in proper perspective it helps to Santorum's original words which started his conflict with Savage: []

    You have to ask yourself, how would you feel if someone said such things about your sexuality/how you to relate to those you love.

  • by Nebulious ( 1241096 ) on Monday February 13, 2012 @10:15AM (#39018439)
    Santorum wouldn't be in this situation if he hadn't pissed off the online community. His hateful, provincial views are completely at odds with most of the younger generations who are able to freely spread ideas and news about villains like him. Santorum caught on as slang to publicly shame this man. As most here know, Savage had his contest to fit a proper insult to the guy. He deserves no sympathy and should realize how rational the hatred and criticisms of him are. The Google results are purely symptomatic. Conservatives in America should realize how viscous people outside of their base are growing to their views outside and stop making excuses.
  • by andydread ( 758754 ) on Monday February 13, 2012 @10:26AM (#39018547)
    I dunno, I think the problem is a Rick Santorum's [] Problem. It's because of Rick Santorum's [] obsession with gay people and banning gay sex. Maybe Rick Santorum [] should get off his soap box. And since Rick Santorum [] is against gay marriage obviously those people are going to be active against him along with others that fear is rise to power.
  • by dr2chase ( 653338 ) on Monday February 13, 2012 @10:27AM (#39018563) Homepage

    SpreadingSantorum predates It Gets Better, so this doesn't look like a causal link.

    I don't think Google should do anything at all. Why should Santorum get special treatment? The already provide SafeSearch, and TFA proposes setting it to "strict" if you don't want to get results like this.

    See also: Dan Savage on this [].

  • by od05 ( 915556 ) on Monday February 13, 2012 @10:46AM (#39018795)
    The only way to derank the results it is to drown it out. It is very unfortunate that they did this to his "name", rather than just news about him. []

    He can reverse this. I remember when Apple's lack of Flash support was in the news, and Apple successfully drowned out much of the negative press by including dense concentrations of the word "Flash" (referring to the camera) in their press releases. They successfully made searches for "iphone flash" show links to their pages rather than to blogs complaining about the iphone not having Flash.

    I personally feel that search engine manipulation is a problem, and while I commend Google's position on their neutrality - I feel some precedence should be given when it involves peoples names. If you have a unique name and somebody blogs bad things about you, you are stuck with those results *for life* every time someone Google's you.

    Because of Section 230(c) of the Communications Decency Act, the material has been found to be defamatory by a court, as evidenced by a court order, limiting such an option to only those in power, or those who can afford a decent lawyer. It's evil.

  • by J'raxis ( 248192 ) on Monday February 13, 2012 @10:50AM (#39018839) Homepage

    Google simply allowed the Spreading Santorum result to rise to #1 because the site meets Google's criteria for making it to the #1 slot. It's my understanding that years ago, after the Spreading Santorum website was created, thousands (millions?) of people blogged about it, linked to it, and so on, so it rose to the top of Google when people searched the politician's name. Google is not advancing anyone's political agenda by simply allowing searches for the word "Santorum" to return results using the same ruleset that searches for any other word follow. They're simply following their own rules.

    Specifically granting Santorum an exception from these rules and downgrading the site that rose to the top by following the rules would be "advancing a political agenda." Santorum's.

    Of course, this is the kind of rhetoric you see everywhere in modern politics. Not advancing my political agenda is "advancing a political agenda," but advancing my political agenda is not "advancing a political agenda" but "fair and balanced reporting."

    Google can do anything they want with their results, being a private company as opposed to a true "public" forum. However, that's how a lot of people view Google, and search engines in general---as neutral providers of the results of the rest of the web. I'm sure we're all familiar with the uproar when it is discovered that such-and-such a search engine is bumping certain results because they were paid off to do so. This situation would be no different. If Google grants Santorum's people a special exception and downgrades the Spreading Santorum results, that's the end of believing Google's results are fair and non-biased.

    Right now Santorum's people are buying an ad on his name, obviously. Maybe Google should just remove the "ad" and the pink background from that result. Then it would be first and look just like it made it's way to first by earning that slot according to Google's ruleset. Of course that would be the equivalent of bumping certain results because Google was paid off to do so, wouldn't it?

    Ultimately, this story is nothing more than people who want to control the debate getting upset that the other side is controlling the debate better than them. Google is akin to a stretch of roadside and Santorum's people are whining that Spreading Santorum staked out more, bigger political yard signs that they were able to. And now they want permission from someone to come in and rip out most of the signs so they can put up their own.

Garbage In -- Gospel Out.