March 4, 2005

Search Queries About Social Security

A recent PIP report found that on any given day 38 million Americans consult a search engine. So it stands to reason that, as the national debate about Social Security continues, internet users may turn to search engines for links to sites that may help them sort out this complicated issue. Type “social security” into the Yahoo!, Google, and MSN search engines, and the top page returns a variety of informative, advocacy, and service-oriented (i.e. disability attorneys, direct deposit) sites.

The top non-sponsored link at all three directories is, not surprisingly, www.ssa.gov, the official site of the Social Security Administration. A home page link entitled “About Social Security’s Future” leads to an FAQ page; its answers stress that “there are no plans to cut benefits for current retirees,” but that cuts of 27% and more are likely for 25 and 35 year-olds “unless changes are made.”

The main page devoted to Social Security at www.whitehouse.gov, another highly ranked search engine return, displays cheery photographs of the president with senior citizens and with participants in town-meeting style events. It also provides talking points keyed to the president’s stated principles as he campaigns for reform of the program. Links go to speeches, videos, audios, and reports.

The highest ranking site opposing the president’s campaign belongs to the American Association of Retired Persons. Its “Keep Social Security Strong” page displays iconic photos and links to an action center and a “blog” taking the form of an anonymously written newsletter with no posts or blogroll (a directory to similarly oriented blogs).

Two think tanks come up in the first page of returns at the major search engines. The Cato Foundation’s Project on Social Security Choice snapped up the URL www.socialsecurity.org in 1996, while the Century Foundation’s Social Security Network may be found at www.socsec.org. The Century site is a directory to reading materials, while the Cato site also offers a community toolkit and Speaker’s Bureau.

MSN lists two advocacy sites of more recent lineage, a feisty liberal blog entitled www.thereisnocrisis.com, and a conservative initiative called www.mysocialsecurity.com which redirects to a site run by the National Center for Policy Analysis.

On the cutting edge (but not, as yet, at the top of the search engine returns): a solve-it-yourself game from the American Association of Actuaries, and a contest to create a flash-animation critique of the president’s initiative from MoveOn.org.