Obama Made My Top Eight!
Presidential candidates invade MySpace—but will they win ‘friends’?
New America Media, Commentary, Angel Luna Posted: Jun 08, 2007
Editor’s Note: In pursuit of the ever-elusive “youth vote,” presidential candidates are venturing into virtual territory, setting up pages on social networking websites such as Myspace.com and Facebook.com. Their target audience certainly patronizes these sites, but according to commentator Angel Luna, they go there seeking authentic connections—something the candidates’ prefabricated pages have yet to provide.
Lately, as I make my way through the login process to check my MySpace page, I always seem to stumble across the new Obama video or the latest news on Hillary Clinton.
The new political battleground, it seems, has become the Internet. From YouTube.com to Facebook.com to MySpace.com, political candidates are investing time and money into having a strong presence in online communities. As a result, Obama has become my “friend,” at least online, and I'm working on getting into Hillary's top eight (a feature where MySpacers can identify their favorite friends and link to their pages).
During the last major election, celebrities including P. Diddy came up with a campaign called “Vote or Die!” aimed at getting young people to vote. The intention was good, but it was not enough to engage today's younger generation. Despite celebrity endorsements, tons of T-shirts, and cheesy TV spots, too many still felt disconnected from the electoral process.
For this upcoming election, the candidates have found an even more direct vehicle to communicate with the young—online communities. The politicians aren’t the first to figure this out; virtual communities have become an essential way for multiple industries to connect with young Americans. MySpace, the biggest network out there, is breaking new ground everywhere, from the entertainment industry to political organizations trying to make folks conscious about a cause they are fighting over. Presidential candidates are just the latest contenders.
Candidates getting into Web communities is a good first step, but in the end, it will not lead to votes, or real political engagement. Even virtual relationships have standards, and if these candidates are not the ones making their pages—which they clearly are not—it just feels like another advertisement. We are not stupid, and we know that Giuliani is not up nights updating his own page. He has a well-developed team getting paid to do what we do for fun.
Many young people feel disconnected from political candidates, and I include myself in this group. The politicians are well-spoken and polished, but it seems like they are from a different world, unapproachable and distant. Candidates’ MySpace pages look like an attempt to bridge this gap, but they don’t really go the distance. Their pages are not like ours—it is really a bunch of pre-packaged information for the masses; the same problem in a new format.
Nonetheless, candidates’ pages are definitely being visited. Hillary has 10,703 friends and Obama has 117,212, which are enormous by cyber-standards. But I suspect people are going to candidates’ pages not to learn more about their political platforms and decide whom to vote for, but to connect with the candidates’ “friends.” I can go to Obama's page, look at his top eight and see people my age, working nine to fives just like me. I feel a sense of connection—just not necessarily with the candidate.
If the candidates really want to turn on their Internet credibility, they need to personalize their pages, just like the rest of us. I would feel more connected if I saw a Hillary Clinton slide show from a weekend at the club, or if Obama's page featured the latest Kanye West song. And it would be dope to read on Giuliani's page his quote: “I am the king of New York.”
It would be nice to see what kind of struggles the candidates are going through, as well as what they are passionate about. I want to see their human side—the good, the bad, and the fun stuff that they do in their free time.
Instead, even on their supposedly personal MySpace pages, they come off as candidates trying to look flawless, when MySpace browsers would much rather see the real Obama or the real Hillary blog about what they like to do or what they are fed up with.
What young people are looking for in a web community is what we seek in any community: real people, not professional marketers. The candidate who lets a little of that show through online will definitely get my attention—and maybe even my vote.
Angel Luna is on the staff of Silicon Valley De-Bug, a collective of writers, artists, workers and organizers based in San Jose, California.
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