Michael Amato, Rowan University '09, sent me this e-mail yesterday:
"Dear Mr. Brown, I am a journalism student at Rowan University all the way out in Glassboro, NJ. I am currently working on a story for my Broadcast News Writing class and could definitely use your input. After reading your blogs for the past days, I thought you would be someone who would have knowledge of the topic...I'm writing a story about the new technology the nominees for President have been using this time around...now they are making profiles on the new fad MySpace and Facebook. I have a few questions about this:
1) Why do you think they have these profiles and who do you think these profiles are intended for?...is this a good marketing strategy?
2) Do you think these profiles may actually have an influence on the voting process?
3) Do you think these profiles could actually be a deciding factor when a person gets to the voting booth. Might someone think, 'Well, from Clinton's profile on Facebook, she seems cool, so I'll vote for her'?"
Michael, I'm glad to know you were reading my blog. It so happens that I have also recently started using Facebook. I can think of three points right off:
1 Since the 2004 election in particular, a key fund-raising tool has been the internet, so expect politicians to try using every available internet application.
2) Facebook and MySpace have youthful demographics: the great majority of people on these sites are under 35. This is a hard group for politicians to reach (a lot of young adults say that they get more info from The Daily Show on Comedy Central than they do from regular news sources). This age group is also a battleground between the two major parties.
3) The most important reason is that Facebook and MySpace actually are quite effective networking applications. For example, the past week I became Facebook "friends" with Howard Dean, Chairman of the Democratic Party, and with Arianna Huffington, a well-known liberal blogger (Huffington Post). Becoming their friend gives me access to the list of all their other friends, and these are lists of hundreds of people who have similar political views and interests to mine. I was able to find on those lists several other bloggers that I link to on my politics blog, and send them messages asking them to check out my blog and link to it if they wished. This way I increase traffic to my blog, and make connections with people who do what I do. A political organizer needs such lists for fund-raising and for get-out-the-vote drives. In the old days these targeted mailing lists would be sold for large amounts of money by political consultants who worked for years, sometimes, compiling them. When Barack Obama was recently endorsed by John Kerry, for example, he also gained access to Kerry's e-mail and snail mail lists from the 2004 campaign, a valuable asset. With networking applications such as Facebook, a campaign can quickly compile a very efficiently targeted list of people who are likely supporters. So you can see that these lists are more than just a fad.
(Historical note: Mark Hanna, the campaign manager for the successful Republican candidate William McKinley in 1896, is generally credited as the first operative to make mass-mailings of political flyers through the U.S. Postal Service.)