In this current age of online politics and the emergence of You Tube campaigning, the lessons from last week’s Obama-MySpace controversy should send a strong message to all of the other campaigns who are trying to use the internet as a powerful tool this election season.
For a campaign that prides itself on a new type of open politics and grassroots supporters, Barack Obama’s presidential team made a serious mistake in alienating Joe Anthony, a once-powerful member of its online community.
As a recap, in this new era of online campaigning, social networking sites like FaceBook and MySpace have taken on an added importance in empowering predominantly young people to join a political cause. For instance, Facebook, which allows its users a chance to create and join groups for any purpose, has numerous campaign groups for all of the major candidates in both the Republican and the Democratic races. Supporters using the website can join these groups, communicate with each other, plan events etc. to support their candidates. MySpace, a site similar to Facebook, also lets people set up pages for candidates, issues or ideas that they support also.
Before Barack Obama was even inaugurated as the junior Senator from Illinois, Joe Anthony set up such a MySpace group in support of the Senator-elect. According to an article in the Chicago Sun Times, “Anthony is the 29-year old Los Angeles paralegal who in November 2004 launched an Obama page on MySpace, the social networking site, attracting 160,000 ‘friends.’”
With so many ‘friends’-- who could possibly be used as volunteers or donors for the campaign-- signed up for this page, Anthony’s assistance was obviously a great asset to Obama’s presidential campaign. One can only imagine the cost of obtaining such a list without the help of MySpace and Mr. Anthony’s support. With Anthony’s hard work in setting up and updating the site, that list was provided virtually free for the Obama campaign.
In appreciation for the MySpace publicity, Obama’s campaign provided some official campaign material for inclusion on the site working in conjunction with Anthony. However, the Times article continued, the Obama campaign officially took over the website last week “replacing his [Anthony’s] content with official information from the campaign and leaving in the wake a dispute over whether Anthony was fairly treated…” which led to Anthony’s recent online post of the following: "Regardless of the campaign's intentions, the campaign quashed not only my right to have this profile, but the very hope that inspired me to build it.''