Is Google Targeting Rick Santorum?

Sunday, 26 Feb 2012 06:27 PM

By David A. Patten

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Type the word "Santorum" in Google and you won't find his campaign website or other positive, useful information about him in the first, second or even third entries.

In fact, almost every entry on the all-important first page of "Santorum" results — the one most users see — is laden with nasty, sometimes vulgar attacks.

The very first entry for his name offers a "definition" that reads "Santorum 1. The frothy mix of lube and fecal matter that is sometimes the byproduct of anal sex. 2. Senator Rick Santorum."

The definition is repeated in another entry in the popular website Urban Dictionary, which is a compendium of street and often-vulger slang terms.

Other first page Google entries include those with headings such as "Santorum Exposed," "Despicable: Rick Santorum's Wife Uses Her Sick Child To Lie About ...," and "Rick Santorum's Anal Sex Problem."

Buried amid the smut is entry number 7, which offers a link to Santorum's official campaign website.

Is Google at war with Rick Santorum?

Santorum himself says that Google is treating him with a double standard and addressed the high-tech aspersions cast against him, via what the media has euphemistically called “Santorum’s Google problem.” He spoke with Google chief Eric Schmidt prior to the debate that was sponsored by Google.

“All I know,” Santorum told ABC News in October, “is that with respect to Michelle Obama there was a situation with her that they quote fixed, there was a situation with President Obama they quote fixed, there was a situation with President Bush they fixed.

“And they’ve decided this doesn’t rise to the level that they need to address. There are those frankly on the left and the right that have written about this and suggested that there is a little bit of, well, duplicity on their part as to their excuse.”

Google's anti-Santorum bias, real or imagined, may be costing him votes.

For example, the smoke barely cleared from the Feb. 23 GOP debate when Google served up what journalists interpreted as bad news for Santorum: The top searches related to the debate appeared to stem only from the negative attacks against the former senator from Pennsylvania.

Searches for “earmarks” jumped 2,300 percent. “Bridge to nowhere” rose by about 600 percent.

Of course, those searches could have turned up information that supported Santorum’s contention that he is the genuine conservative best suited to challenge the establishment favorite and former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney.

Newsmax perused the news results from a Google search of Santorum’s name for several days following the debate, and found he was much more likely to be linked to negative news stories than either Obama or Romney.

For example a query of "Obama" on Google returns a first page that gives almost all positive or neutral entries except for one.

Similarly, a Google search for "Romney" finds only one negative entry with the headline "Romney" and explanatory text saying "You +1'd this publicly. Romney 1. To defecate in terror. 2. Former Governor Mitt Romney."

Adding to the concern that Google may be leaning in favor of Mitt Romney in the GOP primary is the fact that on Friday Google hired former Rep. Susan Molinari, R-NY, a staunch Romney supporter, to head its lobbying team. As The Hill put it, "Google is hedging its bets on the outcome of the 2012 presidential election."

Molinari fiercely attacked former House Speaker Newt Gingrich when he seemed likely to derail Romney's presidential bid.

"Obviously, if Romney does win the White House, then Google would feel like it's in a very good place," Viveca Novak, a spokeswoman for the Center for Responsive Politics, told The Hill.

But what if Santorum turns out to be the GOP nominee? Then Google may have a whole new problem on its hands. Santorum is unique among the candidates in the way in which his surge has been hindered by the world's premiere search engine.

Google likes to present itself as an impartial information utility that simply presents the information that is making the biggest splash on the Web at any given time.

"We rank search results to deliver the best answers to users, and that is the only consideration — not political viewpoints and not advertising dollars,” a Google spokesman told Newsmax.

But conservatives’ suspicions that they get a less than fair shake from the powerful search giant remain strong, perhaps because Google employees and executives were collectively Obama’s fourth-largest donor to the Obama campaign in the 2008 cycle, contributing some $814,540 according to FEC records.

Google relies on an elaborate series of algorithms, or mathematical rules, to determine how much play to give any given story. As Internet usage has grown, expanding into portable devices such as cell phones, mastering the ability to optimize search results has become an important industry. That is as true for politics as any other field of endeavor.

Dan Gainor, vice president of media and culture for the Media Research Center, told Newsmax that marginal groups that have a radical viewpoint have had success using the Internet to target conservatives.

“While Google results are suspect because of the ‘black box’ nature of how they arrive at them,” he said, “much of this reflects a concerted effort by fringe lefties to harm Santorum.

“The targeted attack on Santorum, courtesy of anti-bullying hypocrite Dan Savage, is one of the most vile in Internet history. Lots of lefty organizations helped drive traffic to it. Of late, liberals have done the same, but on a lesser scale to Mitt Romney,” he said.

In responding to Santorum's public complaints, Google officials say they are constantly looking for ways to tweak their algorithms to help them more precisely reflect what is taking place on the Internet. They promise that effort will continue.

“We have a case of cyber-bullying that’s going on by a group of folks, and Google has decided it doesn’t rise to the level that they’re going to pay any attention to it,” Santorum told ABC News.


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