After months of being considered tech-savvy, Barack Obama’s campaign for President has lost credibility with left-leaning blogs and spent much of the week defending itself due in the controversy surrounding the ownership of www.myspace.com/barackobama.
To briefly summarize, following Obama’s keynote address to the 2004 Democratic National Convention, Joe Anthony, a Californian who had never been involved in a political campaign, was so taken by Obama’s speech he soon launched a page on myspace.com in support of Obama.
As interest in Obama grew, so, too, did interest in Anthony’s new MySpace page. More than 30,000 “friends” had signed on to the page by the time of Obama’s official announcement in January – a total significantly higher than the other Presidential candidates.
What happened next remains in dispute, but what is clear is the site grew at a rate faster than Anthony could keep pace, the Obama campaign collaborated with Anthony on updates to his page and, after an attempt to come to financial terms about ownership of the site fell apart, the Obama campaign went directly to MySpace and wrestled control of the site away from the man who created it.
What also is clear is the Obama campaign quickly found itself under attack over the issue.
Powerful liberal blogs came out swinging at the Obama campaign and even Obama himself.
“A young man believes in Barack Obama and builds the MySpace political success story of the year. And Barack steals his work,” James Boyce noted on Huffingtonpost.com.
“It makes me continue questioning where I will put my vote. I won’t forget this, that’s for sure, because it says a lot to me about how Obama really treats the everyday people supporting him behind the scenes,” Jill Tubman posted on Jack and Jill Politics.
Harshest of all was the dean of leftist bloggers, Markos Moulitsas Z√∫niga of Dailykos.com. His criticism was so blunt that neither the subject title nor the opening of his comments can be printed here. To put it mildly, he felt it “is generally not a wise thing to do.”
Having worked on political campaigns throughout the nation, I have some sympathy for the dilemma the Obama campaign found itself in. As blogs and netroots have exploded onto the scene over the past few election cycles, it has become increasingly difficult for a political campaign to control its own message.
In campaigns I was involved with in the 2004 and 2006 elections, I requested all campaign staff take down their own personal Facebook and MySpace pages. Political campaigns had once been engaged in simple hand-to-hand combat, one campaign versus the other, but with the rise of the Internet that is no longer the case. Any web posting by a campaign staffer has the potential to become explosive.
Blogs, netroots and popular webpages such as Youtube, Facebook and MySpace have given everyday Americans newfound political power. Don’t like the way your Member of Congress votes? Instead of writing a letter to the local paper, any American can express their outrage to a much larger, and potentially worldwide, audience. And the American part will be likely to vote.
The role these webpages, blogs and social networking sites will play in the 2008 elections is not entirely known. But it is certain their importance and use will only grow. And, as the Obama campaign learned, sometimes the tighter one squeezes, the more grains of sand that will be lost.
Handled differently, handled in a “politic” manner by savvy staff, the Obama/MySpace controversy never occurs. It merely proves the old adage, “the more things change, the more they stay the same.”
Campaigns must continually adapt and embrace technologies. But as they do so, they must remember that trying to build a new Web 2.0 will be fruitless without heeding old-fashioned Politics 101.
Doug Heye is a veteran of political campaigns throughout the nation. He has served in leading communications positions in the House of Representatives, the United States Senate and the Bush Administration. In the 2006 elections, Heye served as communications director for the Michael Steele for Senate campaign in Maryland, a campaign widely acknowledged as one of the best-run campaigns in recent memory.