Did Google cave to pressure to change search results for “Santorum?”

The back story: Long ago, when Rick Santorum was campaigning and working on several extremely socially conservative agendas in Pennsylvania, advice columnist Dan Savage launched a (pretty fun) campaign to change the search results for Santorum’s name. Go over to Spreading Santorum for the full story, but for a long time, that was the #1 result when you searched for Santorum.

Now that Santorum is a candidate, the site has gotten more attention again, but it’s fallen in the ranking of search results. Already people are claiming that Santorum successfully pressured Google to change its results and drop the Spreading site. I doubt this is true for a variety of reasons.

1. Google may cave to political pressure in other countries (albeit with some transparency about why, how and how it can be tracked), but I do have a really hard time believing that they’d do something like this for a US candidate for president. It would be a PR nightmare, and they know it.

2. There’s a lot more linkage to Santorum’s own candidacy site, his Wikipedia page and other more official sites than ever before. This is going to affect everyone’s search results to some degree, in part because of the timing. I’m sure a lot of the links to Spreading Santorum are older, and the links to the official pages are newer. This changes search results to reflect the current state of the web as it grows/evolves.

3. Finally, there’s the issue that all of our search results are individualized, based on our prior search history, our social connections in places like Google+, and much more. If I google “Deanna,” I’m the 3rd most popular Deanna in the world. If someone else who doesn’t know me, who doesn’t have a connection to me, googles “Deanna,” they might not see me. (Before personalized search results, I was at least in the top ten, haha.) So in this case, when I google “Santorum,” it’s still result #4 for me. That might not be true for others.

Just another day clarifying before we totally run down the rabbit hole of technology conspiracies. :-)


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