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Is Romney developing a Santorum 'Google problem'?

Doug Gross, CNN
Based on a Web search for his name, GOP candidate Mitt Romney has developed a Santorum-style
Based on a Web search for his name, GOP candidate Mitt Romney has developed a Santorum-style "Google problem."
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Mitt Romney joins GOP rival Rick Santorum with a Google search-results problem
  • New site, "Spreading Romney," gives a profane, fake definition of candidate's name
  • Sites for Newt Gingrich, President Obama also exist, but have less traction

(CNN) -- Republican presidential candidate Rick Santorum's "Google problem" is well documented.

Now, the former U.S. senator's chief political rival, former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney, appears to be joining him.

On Friday, a Google search for Romney's name was delivering a site called "Spreading Romney" as one of its top results. The spoof site (which, as will soon become apparent, is in no way associated with the Republican candidate or his campaign) is a twist on a site that caused Santorum to ask Google to bury it.

"Spreading Santorum" popped up on the Web after the then-senator angered gay-rights advocates in 2003 with a comment that compared homosexuality to bestiality and pedophilia. A podcast host and sex columnist created the site, which "defines" Santorum's name with an explicit and lewd term we won't repeat here.

As the site was shared around the Web, it gained in Google's search algorithm until it became the top search result for Santorum's name. On Friday, it remained second after his official campaign site.

The Romney site also offers a fake definition for his name, one that's not quite as foul as Santorum's but still profane and far from complimentary.

The site is registered to Ayokay LLC, a web design company based in Indianapolis, Indiana. Ayokay CEO Jack Shepler confirmed in an e-mail that he is the site's owner.

He said the "definition" he chose for Romney (and this will make sense if you visit the site) is a reference to a years-old Boston Globe report about Romney and his family traveling to Canada with the family dog in a crate on the roof of his car. The dog relieved itself in the crate, according to the story, leading Romney to hose him down at a gas station and continue the trip.

Shepler said the Santorum site obviously inspired his creation.

"While many consider both of the sites to be crude, I consider them to be a comedic way to bring attention to important issues, much in line with how Jon Stewart might bring attention to an important issue," he said in an e-mail.

Some of Santorum's other rivals are getting similar treatment. At "Spreading Gingrich," a contest is under way to create a definition for the former House speaker's name. That site, however, doesn't rank very high in a search for "Gingrich."

At least not yet. As sites get more traffic and are linked from other sites, they gain traction in Google searches, rising closer to the coveted first page of results.

The Web snark has also crossed the political aisle.

With a little bit of tinfoil-hat flair, "Spreading Obama" (which, interestingly, bears the .org reserved for nonprofits), defines the Democratic president's name as "A puppet of the New World Order Architects."

Say what you will, but at least we could print that one.

In September, Santorum asked Google to remove the offensive site from its search results, going so far as to suggest the company would probably do so for a Democrat. Google refused, saying it "very rarely" removes content, and only when it is illegal or explicitly violates Google's terms of service.

For the record, there's also a "Spreading Ron Paul" site, which appears to be a sincere endorsement of the U.S. congressman and fellow GOP presidential candidate.

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