Rick Santorum and his Google problem: Are digital dirty tricks here to stay?
The dispute over the scatological website set up following remarks Rick Santorum made back in 2003 highlights what some see as ethical concerns over the political use of the Internet.
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Paul Levinson, Fordham University professor and author of “New New Media,” says he is no apologist for the Republican presidential candidate, but he is concerned about the public trust in the functioning of the Internet.Skip to next paragraph
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“Satire is an important poltical tool, but this goes way beyond that because a play or a cartoon is something that people choose to view,” he says. Directing users to a website under false pretenses, however, is another thing, he notes. “I can just imagine a fourth-grader searching for Santorum for his homework and coming on this site," he says. "It is not appropriate for that search to yield material like this.”
Santorum's Google problem does bring up some serious ethical issues, says Steven Schier, a political scientist at Carleton College in Northfield, Minn. “Abusing the search privilege is a form of Internet fraud and compromises the integrity of the Internet as a whole. As such, it is a potentially serious problem for all users of the Internet.”
But these concerns must be balanced by the important leveling of the playing field offered by the Internet, says Lori Brown, an associate professor of sociology and criminology at Meredith College in Raleigh, N.C. “Santorum chose to make these comments about gays that he knew would be reported and probably knew would be seen as homophobic by many,” she says via e-mail.
The placing of the content about Santorum that is now part of search engine results is an organized response to his comments, she notes, adding that the material is a collective response to offensive statements from a politician. “He has a much larger microphone than the average citizen, and this is a way to have a big microphone to respond to him,” she says. “This is a political action by people offended to a political statement, and all politicians should be aware now that the public has tools like these to protest.”
As for the technologically unsophisticated Internet user, she suggests that manipulated search results will not be an issue for the upcoming Internet-weaned generation.
“My guess is that the biggest issue for Santorum in the national election will be less that people associate him with this term, but rather that he is – and will be seen quickly by those who are technologically savvy (especially younger voters) as being – uncool," she adds.
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