Santorum (adj) – The assassination of one’s political career in spectacular fashion.

No, this is not the “real” definition. In the attempt to be safe for work, you’re welcome to Google it yourself.

Alright, you’re back. Or perhaps you never left. I won’t assume you know what it means, though you’re welcome to read the Wikipedia page on some of the backstory. It’ll help.

In any case, as a punishment for some incredibly bigoted statements of then-Senator Rick Santorum, a new word was coined. If you didn’t hear at the time, essentially he said that consensual gay relations were as morally justifiable as incest or adultery. If you hover over the above link, you’ll see the parenthetical “sexual neologism”. This should be enough to give you an idea about what kind of word was defined in his name. Well, in the absolute sense (and playing devils’ advocate), he has a point. But then again, no act of sex is justifiable. The drive itself is a necessary instinct, but unexplainable in rational terms. It’s an axiom of our existence, or should be – some try to ignore it. Attempting to justify sex is like asking why we’re afraid of death – it just is because that’s how we are, at the deepest level

Enough about that. This entry isn’t about the man, the act, the statements, or the word. Rather, it’s about Google.

News came out recently that Rick was interested in running for the Presidency in 2012. He notes that his “Google problem” will be a huge hindrance. I agree, and we’ll examine some reasons why.

The first is obvious. Say you want to look him up because you saw a campaign advertisement. If you search his last name, the first half of the page solely references the neologism. The 6th result is the Wikipedia page, which makes no secret either (not that it should). Even if you search his full name, the “official” page is still ranked lower than the above-linked Wiki article.

“That’s not a problem”, you say. “He’ll just put an address at the bottom of the ad”. I’m sure he will, but it still won’t matter. For one, not everybody will see the ads, and those that do will likely forget the domain name. They’ll be looking it up, and it’ll be most people interested in finding him. But even those that know the domain name will still Google the domain name. The poor blog “Read Write Web” found this out the hard way, when one of their articles became the top result for “facebook login”. There are 3000 comments on that article complaining about the “new facebook” and how terrible it is. “I just want to log in to Facebook – what with the red color and all? LOLLLOLOL!!!!!111″, or “Can we log into face book? This is crazy I want to get all my info off and be done with this.” Yes, you’re reading this right – several thousand people Googled “facebook login”, clicked the first link to some blog they’ve never heard of, and made an account and commented – all without realizing that they weren’t on Facebook! This problem is endemic – I’ve seen somebody open their web browser’s homepage (google.com) and search “www.google.com”, then click on the link – because they wanted to do a search on Google.

Google, for many people, is completely replacing the domain name system. In some ways this is good – instead of navigating through a number of nested pages, a properly-crafted Google search will usually pull up a direct link right away. But that’s if you understand what you’re doing. If you didn’t, wouldn’t you be tempted to trust Google’s “word”? I mean, there’s prima facie evidence above that people unconditionally trust Google to take them to a page like “facebook login”, and expend a tremendous amount of energy without, apparently, even considering that “Google is wrong” (yes, this is a meaningless statement).

Look how bad it is for something as simple as a job application. An employer could be considered remiss if they didn’t Google their applicants, as much as I hate to admit it. There are frequently cases (just search Google) of people asking for advice on how to handle bad results for your name, even if it’s somebody else’s misdeeds. Typically the response is a very unsatisfying “use a different name, or a middle initial or something”. I even know people who have a pretty good case that they were rejected “by Google”. This is a subset of the “do something stupd online and it’s there forever” that bites pot-smoking teenagers when they’re 30, except it doesn’t even need to be the same person. It doesn’t take much at all to be “out”, and a bad search can definitely put that over the edge. The blame clearly rests with employers being sloppy, prejudiced, or too uptight (depending on the case), but that doesn’t help the applicants who get cut. Maybe the solution is for there to be “dirt” on everybody, so nobody can be rejected on it -but you won’t see me volunteering.

Where does all of this leave our Senator-turned-slang? Well, I submit that he has a bigger problem than he realizes. Because people will Google “santorum” or even “rick santorum” and get a page full of links to the other santorum (with a small ‘s’). His likely voters are, shall we say, less than tolerant of the association they will see as implied by the links. That particular politician with that particular problem and his particular target demographic doesn’t stand a chance – he will come off as against everything they stand for.

Well, he never did stand a chance. He’s too extreme – even for a lot of Republicans, and today that’s saying something. They might agree with him, but that’s not the sort of thing you just say. His potential candidacy is dead in the water from a political standpoint; this is just icing on the cake. I only hope I managed to salvage some interesting questions before he’s forgotten about. The question “should I be able to ruin somebody’s life with a Google bomb?” or more broadly “should a Google result page destroy somebody’s life?” is an important one that we need to decide as a society, but for the moment it’s irrelevant and it happens. I’d even feel bad for Rick, if he hadn’t worked so hard to earn it. Though I have to admit, turning somebody’s (rather unique) last name into a taboo word, unfit for polite company, is a bit rough.

P.S. Even though it started as a Google bomb, I’d argue that Google is doing exactly what it should! That’s the best part about all this – even if they were sympathetic to the idea of fiddling with the results, when somebody searches “santorum” they probably mean or are wondering about “the other thing” so Google can’t really do anything about it. Hah!

P.P.S. I got the inspiration from a Colbert Report clip, though I’d heard the story of the term years ago and been thinking about the impact of Google and its effects for a while.

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