Campaign 2.0

Whenever you go to peer-networking site MySpace, you’re immediately confronted with three of what the site calls “Cool New People.” They appear underneath where you enter your e-mail address and password to log in. Lately, the “Cool New People” have reliably been two regular people and then a 2008 presidential candidate who has created a MySpace profile. So it’s something like “Megan … Kim … Bill Richardson…”

“Hi, my name is Mitt Romney, and my interests include boys, shopping, and the Electoral College.”

For the most part, ’08 candidates’ entries onto MySpace seem to have gone seamlessly. But one was not without an element of chaos, that of Senator Barack Obama.

Anyone who’s been on MySpace knows it’s full of profiles representing public figures and celebrities that are not actually run by those people, they’re run by average citizens who find it fun or funny to create a profile for someone they’re not who wouldn’t normally be on a peer-networking site (like maybe because they’re dead). In November 2004, just after Obama was elected to the U.S. Senate, a 29-year-old paralegal in Los Angeles named Joe Anthony started a MySpace page for the Senator. It was intended as a tribute, and Anthony claims to have put a lot of time into developing the page.

This was all well and good, until Obama entered the ’08 presidential race this year. By then Anthony’s unofficial profile’s friends had swelled to 160,000, and the campaign decided it needed to take over the page. Negotiations for the campaign’s takeover went underway, with Anthony requesting a payment of $39,000 for his work building up the page. But then, for reasons that are not entirely clear, things between the two parties turned ugly, and the Obama campaign seized control of the account. They lost 160,000 friends, but took control of the page. (As of this writing the profile is built back up to less than 75,000 friends – Obama better start meeting more people at parties if he wants to be elected president).

Let me come right out and say what I think of this whole saga; I think it’s stupid. How does a paralegal in Los Angeles have so much time to dedicate to building up a MySpace profile for a Senator from Illinois? Meanwhile, the Obama campaign’s MySpace profile as it stands now is linked to multiple other Obama tribute pages; if all these are tolerable, why did it need to forcibly wrest control of one?

Anyway, at least when it did take control of the profile, the Obama campaign had the good sense to maintain a sense of “net-roots” in the design of its page. Obama’s profile looks like a real MySpace profile; it has blocky blog entries and raw HTML embed code and posted comments like one from a man named “they call me the tongue tickler!!!!!” asking “does any body kno Mr. Obama’s views on legalizing marijuana?”

You won’t find bullmess like that on John McCain’s MySpace page. A trip over there reveals that McCain is “Male” and “70 years old.” Thrilling. The profile itself, meanwhile, looks like a somber Web page with MySpace elements merely appearing within it. His ‘About Me’ section outlines a three point plan to “Help Spread the Word!”:

1) First, add John McCain as your friend in MySpace.

2) Next, add a banner to JohnMcCain.com on your MySpace page.

3) Finally, email your friends, tell them about John McCain, and invite them to join John McCain on MySpace.

Mmm, I’d rather send my friends an e-card of a monkey speaking swear words, but OK. One other thing McCain’s MySpace profile has, which all ’08 presidential candidate’s MySpace pages also have, is YouTube clips. This is the other front on which the battle of ’08 campaign 2.0 is being waged; YouTube. The 2008 presidential candidates all have YouTube clips, but for the most part they’re just clips of speeches or long, boring commercials for the candidates. Hilary Clinton’s YouTube commercial has Bill Clinton on video endorsing his wife within the first 30 seconds of the clip, and ends with him as well! So your husband endorses you for president, we probably could have surmised that without the clip. Anything else you’d like to add? Will you be voting for yourself?

When Clinton himself was elected president, some credited it to his galvanizing the youth vote with moves like going on MTV News to answer audience questions in a public forum and on the Arsenio Hall Show to blare “Heartbreak Hotel” on a saxophone wearing sunglasses. To use Web 2.0 to its best advantage, the ’08 presidential candidates are going to have to figure out how to use it to electioneer a moment like that. Because all the MySpace adds in the world aren’t going to clear an election field crowded with 17 candidates and counting.

–Daniel Margolis, dmargolis@certmag.com

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