Candidates use Facebook to reach Internet generation

SYRACUSE, N.Y. (U-WIRE) — As the 2008 Presidential campaign is underway, major political players have chosen Facebook as a campaign battleground.

Presidential candidates, such as Hillary Clinton, John McCain, Barak Obama and Mitt Romney, are seizing new political opportunities for social networking in Facebook’s Internet community to “befriend” younger voters.

By simply searching some of these names on the Web site, members can “poke” Rudy Giuliani, read personal announcements from Barack Obama’s “notes” or read up on Mitt Romney’s favorite inspirational quotes.

One of the main perks of political networking on Facebook is that it facilitates horizontal conversation, creating an environment ultimately leading to people talking to each other about the presidential candidates, said Grant Reeher, associate professor of political science at Syracuse University.

“One of the things that’s appealing to the candidates is that they get to chose the face that they get to show,” he said. “Once they put it out there though, then they loose control over who’s going to list them as a friend. So, there is also a piece of giving up control. It’s a double edged sword.”

Facebook provides easy access to interesting personal information on the presidential candidates, said sophomore Austin O’Malia in the College of Arts and Sciences.

“(It) crosses boundaries of political and personal recreation,” he said.

People have to be aware that public relation teams construct the candidates’ profiles, he said. Students should be cautious not to rely solely on Facebook information for their presidential voting decision in 2008.

Readers should note the difference between personal messages on Facebook walls and the somewhat “echoing” rhetoric of a presidential candidate’s canned messages and carefully constructed image, said Steve Masiclat, director of the SU new media graduate program.

The prospective worth of Facebook campaigning remains to be seen, he said.

Steve Davis, chairman of SU’s newspaper department, said the power of the Internet needs to be considered before any drastic campaign actions are presented.

Hillary Clinton, for example, recently staged a press conference specifically for her Web site in order to get media attention, Davis said. But her question and answer forum was widely criticized because she “looked like hell.”

“Campaigns have always coached their candidates on how they should look on TV, but now they have to coach them on how they look on the Internet,” he said. “It is so personality driven.”

“Clearly, money is not a goal,” Masiclat said. Facebook members, being mostly college students, are not typically going to give away $40 to a presidential cause.

But the candidates are actually saving money in television advertising fees by using Facebook, Masiclat said.

This attitude differs greatly from the Internet campaigns of John Kerry and George W. Bush in the 2004 elections.

Kerry’s 2004 campaign used the Internet to raise money “because he couldn’t afford to concentrate on anything else,” Davis said. “Bush used the Internet community as an organizational tool.”

About 80 percent of Kerry’s campaign money was derived from financial supporters online.

“You’re going to see a lot more emphasis on the Internet,” Reeher said. “The intensity is a lot higher — earlier. You don’t have either an incumbent president, or an obvious nominee for one of the parties, like a sitting president. It’s the first time since the elections in 1952.”