When Rick Santorum found his name’s unfortunate alternate meaning in the spotlight yet again this week, he thought Google was out to get him.

“I suspect if something was up there like that about Joe Biden, they’d get rid of it,” Santorum said.

Santorum has had a problem with Google since 2003, when gay-activist and advice columnist Dan Savage urged followers to Google-bomb the anti-gay senator’s last name and bestow it an unpleasant definition. The hype died down a few years later, only to suddenly spike this week.

If he had done his search engine homework, Santorum would have realized that his own action -- his attempt to suppress the alternate definition -- was to blame.

It’s the result of a phenomenon called The Streisand Effect.

In 2003, Barbra Streisand decided she didn’t want the public to find out where she lived. However, her attempt to suppress this information unintentionally publicized it more widely than ever before. Before Streisand tried to conceal it, the public was mostly unaware of her location. Now, any Google search will quickly reveal it.

Coined by Techdirt’s Mike Masnick, The Streisand Effect refers to the simple truth that censorship has always fueled people’s curiosity about an otherwise less newsworthy item. However, the advent of search engines strengthened people’s ability to dig up the story more than ever before.

The effect dovetails perfectly with the way search engines incentivize page ranking. Google in particular has a part of its algorithm called Query Deserves Freshness, or QDF for short. QDF ensures that if there is a sudden spike in searches about a subject, the pages with the most recent coverage on that subject are ranked the highest.

When Streisand and Santorum attempted to suppress information about a topic, this sparked conversation about what was actually in the suppressed information. Google rewarded pages that covered the censorship stories since they were recent updates on larger topics (Streisand and Santorum). As a result, the very information intended to be hidden shot up in the search engine ranks.

Now, more people than ever are talking about Santorum, in both definitions. Unfortunately for the senator, there’s only one way to deal with a problem that worsens every time he brings it up. He’ll have to suffer silently.