Micah Sifry posted a fascinating analysis last night of the Obama campaign’s takeover of a formerly volunteer-run MySpace site for the candidate, complete with dueling accusations and a lot of ill will all around. More than two years ago, Barak fan Joe Anthony started a MySpace page in honor of the then-Senator, only to see its friend list balloon to over 160,000 in the frenzy of attention paid to the presidential race over the past few months. Understandably, Obama’s campaign staff became uncomfortable with such a valuable asset being controlled by a volunteer and decided to take it over. Unfortunately, from there things went to hell quickly, leaving the campaign with egg on its face and Anthony labeled (unfairly, to my eyes) a cyber-squatter and money-grubber.
As Micah points out, this exact situation probably won’t play out again, since high-profile campaigns will start their own official MySpace pages and preempt amateurs in the future. But, it says a lot about the power of random political supporters (and by extension, opponents) to build up networks of excited people outside of a campaign’s direct control. As citizen-created media become more common in the political world, questions of direction, power and control will crop up more and more campaigns are not used to letting other people shape their messages, and more feelings are likely to get bruised in the future. Balancing message discipline and real citizen involvement in politics is going to be a problem for traditionally-minded campaign operatives.
Update More coverage online:
- Obama’s MySpace Mess: Enter the Shovel Brigade (TechPresident follow-on story). Note: Obama called the unhappy volunteer! Good damage control (finally).
- HisSpace: Obama seizes backer’s site (Chicago Tribune).
- Obama Campaign Asks: Is It MySpace or Yours? (Washington Post)
- Updated Obama campaign usurps Myspace website, not a hit (Daily Kos)
- Obama’s MySpace Conundrum (New York Times)
- Obama: WhoseSpace? (National Journal)
- Obama Now Controls His Space On MySpace (AP via CBS News)
- Obama’s MySpace Fiasco (Bivings Report)
- Things get unfriendly for Obama (Prezvid)
- Obama blows into MySpace (MyDD)
I disagree. I think campaigns will find they have less and less control of the message and the community, and that more and more amateurs will create upstart communities which, in many cases, they don’t give over to the campaign. Those upstarts are likely to learn from this experience that they should do what they want, and ask the campaign to get out of the way.
This was the fundamental lesson of the Dean campaign, and I think Dean and Trippi learned it together at some point around late summer – early fall of 2003. Too many supporters were too eager to engage the campaign, with too many wacky ideas, in order for Dean for America to try to control it all. Instead they provided tools, like meetup and to a much lesser degree Deanlink (or whatever the heck their myspace clone was called), which allowed supporters to find each other and self-organize. It looks like that lesson has been lost to some degree, but it will likely be learned again very quickly.
The successful campaign will be the one which understands that the message is the community, to some degree. That is, a successful campaign will be one which encourages its supporters to do their own thing, and which encourages its supporters to extend that DIY attitude to the practice of governing, not just campaigning. Dean did this in 2003 masterfully, Deval Patrick extended this work in 2006, and I’m quite positive that we will see it rise again. Obama’s take on this lesson is that engaging the community is merely a matter of providing good social networking technology; I hope the campaign will soon learn that it means letting supporters do their own thing and drive the message as well.
I think we actually agree more than we disagree, since I think building community is a powerful tool. I’d just argue that it’s going to require a serious shift in thinking for campaign staffs.
I doubt the Obama campaign has a problem with letting supporters do their own thing. The problem is that Joe created a profile using the name of a well-known person. Even with a disclaimer, this is bound to be confusing. Many people assumed it was official because it had the official logo and so forth.
I hope that in future MySpace doesn’t allow this sort of thing to happen. Joe can create a supporter group, or he can call his profile ‘Barack Obama Fan’ or whatever. Obviously he meant well, but a profile should be a profile of the actual person named. A line has to be drawn somewhere, and imo that’s a good place to draw it.
[…] I won’t comment on the relative propriety or impropriety of any party in this issue (Techpresidentâ€™s posts and comments are quite informative and epolitics.com has a listing of other articles from both blogs and traditional media sources.) […]
[…] and requires a different approach. Of course, it didn’t always work smoothly, as when the professional staff took over a volunteer’s MySpace page early in the campaign and encounte…. But that stumble and any others were only minor hurdles — and unlike John McCain, at least […]