[3 May 2007]
Chicago Tribune (MCT)
WASHINGTON - The rapidly emerging tension between the unruly world of online politics and the highly controlled machinery of a presidential campaign was made vivid in a bitter struggle that erupted this week for control of a MySpace page listed under the name Barack Obama.
The Democratic senator’s campaign stirred a spirited debate and some harsh criticism on progressive political blogs after it wrested control on Monday of a Barack Obama page on the popular social networking site.
The episode pits a feeling of ownership that online grass-roots activists may have for creative content they create in support of a candidate against a political campaign’s desire to keep strict control over the image it projects to voters. And it foreshadows the challenges inherent in the kind of “bottom-up” movement that the Obama has said he hopes his campaign will be.
Joe Anthony, a 29-year-old paralegal living in Los Angeles, had run the MySpace page since he started it as an unofficial tribute in November 2004, just after Obama was elected to the U.S. Senate. Anthony described it as a labor of love to which he often devoted hours a day to updating and answering on-line queries.
After Obama entered the presidential race, the campaign initially worked with Anthony to suggest improvements and Anthony even gave shared the password so the campaign could make tweaks on its own. When MySpace created a channel featuring profiles of presidential candidates, the Obama campaign chose not to create an official profile but instead suggested Anthony’s page, which already had a large following.
But as the campaign progressed and the network surrounding the page exploded to 160,000 on-line friends, the Obama campaign decided it should control the page’s content and the responses to MySpace users who sent messages.
Negotiations over control of the page broke down after Anthony proposed a payment of $39,000 to compensate him for his work and requested that the campaign share in paying some fees. Anthony claims the campaign first raised the idea of a cash payment for control of the site. A statement posted on the official Obama campaign blog does not specify which side first raised the possibility of a financial payment and a campaign spokesman declined to address the issue.
But Obama new media director Joe Rospars said in the statement that the campaign moved to seize the web page after Anthony changed the password and shut off the campaign’s access, then sent “an itemized list of financial requests.”
The dispute has left Anthony embittered and cost the campaign access to the electronic network of supporters that the site assembled, although Obama gained control of the page, www.myspace.com/barackobama.
MySpace decided that Anthony would keep the online network of friends he had built up once his unofficial profile is moved to a new page.
In a posting Tuesday on his MySpace blog, Anthony accused the Obama campaign of “bullying” him out of the page.
“Apparently, the message here is, as an individual, if you have too big of an impact, you’re just a liability. This is how Obama lost my vote, and one of his strongest supporters,” he wrote in a post Wednesday.
Later Anthony tempered his criticism after Obama called him on Wednesday.
“It was nice of him to call and quite an honor to finally speak to him!,” Anthony wrote in his blog. “It’ll take time for me to work this out and decide if I will personally continue to support Obama, regardless of how I feel about his campaign’s handling of this situation.”
Anthony did not return a message to his MySpace profile.
The campaign’s handling of the incident also stirred some criticism on liberal blogs.
Markos Moulitsas, founder of the influential blog Daily Kos, used an expletive to describe the campaign’s treatment of Anthony. Another poster on the blog said the campaign had “usurped” two years work from Anthony.
For its part, the Obama campaign chalked up the episode to the rapid evolution of online campaigning.
“We’re flying by the seat of our pants, and establishing new ways of doing things every day,” Rospars said in his blog post. “We’re going to try new things, and sometimes it’s going to work, and sometimes it’s not going to work.”