< The Battle For Santorum

Transcript

Friday, September 30, 2011

BOB GARFIELD:

And here's another way to lodge a protest. If you google Republican presidential hopeful Rick Santorum the first result you'll get is a site called SpreadingSantorum.com. The site's main purpose is to provide an alternate unbelievably obscene definition for the word “santorum.” SpreadingSantorum.com is the brainchild of journalist and gay rights activist Dan Savage and it’s meant to punish Rick Santorum for what Savage considers the candidate’s retrograde views on homosexuality.

Santorum asked Google last week to redact the site from its search results, a request the company declined. Google doesn't comment on individual cases, but we were able to get Gabriel Stricker, Google's director of Global Communications & Public Affairs to talk to us about the site's policy on these things, in general. Gabriel, welcome to On the Media.

     GABRIEL STRICKER:

Thanks for having me.

BOB GARFIELD:

Okay, now I have to tell you, Gabriel, I am no fan of Rick Santorum as a candidate, but my heart breaks for him that he has to [LAUGHS] live with this. What do you say to this guy?

GABRIEL STRICKER:

There's nothing especially new about these episodes. It was widely reported years back if you did a query for Wal-Mart, one of the most popular results that was coming up was a page that was very critical Wal-Mart. You know, this is really largely a function of being in the public eye.

BOB GARFIELD:

But in the past hasn’t Google fiddled with its algorithm to deal with various kinds of abuse? For example, a few years back if you typed in the words “miserable failure” in the Google search bar, you would come up with a, a picture of George W. Bush.

GABRIEL STRICKER:

That's right. You're describing one of the more high profile Google bombing episodes. And we made changes to our algorithms to prevent that from happening because we don't want people gaming our search results. We want to be able to provide results that are the best answer for your question.

Now, sometimes your question might lead you to a page that's in support of what you're looking for, and sometimes it might lead you to a page against it.

BOB GARFIELD:

I have just typed into the Google search bar the term “Jew.”  And up comes, as the second search result, Jew Watch News, which is just a over-the-top anti-Semitic site, and high up on the results are a fair number of pretty problematic results. We had heard that Google had intervened in this case because so many of the results regard the search term “Jew” not as a neutral noun but as an epithet. Is it true that you fiddled here on the margins with the algorithm?

GABRIEL STRICKER:

No, not at all. We were really disturbed by the results, but let it stand.

The one thing that we did note – and this was an early case for us - we did provide an explanation of our search results there, where we ran a message at the top of the page that said, “We're disturbed by these results, as well.” And then it says, “Please read our note here.”

And if you click through, you'll see this explanation of how it is that we're personally disturbed by what you're seeing there but let it stand because this is a reflection of — of what's out there on the Web.

BOB GARFIELD:

Funnily enough [LAUGHS], it appears as a paid search result, in other words, an ad. Google took out an ad on Google to say that Google is upset about what's turning up organically on Google.

GABRIEL STRICKER:

That's right. That’s, that’s something that we call a house ad.  We don't remove a page from our search results simply because the content is unpopular. We really just want the results to be a reflection of what's available out there on the Web.

BOB GARFIELD:

It is what it is.

GABRIEL STRICKER:

That's right.

BOB GARFIELD:

Gabriel, thank you very much.

GABRIEL STRICKER:

Thank you, Bob.

[MUSIC UP AND UNDER]