RTD: Politics and MySpace

The Times-Dispatch has some brief thoughts on politicians using MySpace for campaigning:

Young people use MySpace and Facebook principally to reach out to their friends, make new friends, find dates, arrange parties and share photos and music.

You can bet that office seekers, who are likely in the well-over-30-plus demographic, will be trying to find common ground with the young people they’re eager to interest in their candidacy.

Eh. As I’ve said a couple times before, I don’t think it’s going to work, especially given MySpace’s reputation among many adults as a playground for children and old men chasing after them.

But is it a way to reach young voters? I don’t think so. Just because you’re showing how hip you are to the current trends does not mean kids are going to be motivatved to support you. I think it’s another means for young activists to show their support and help keep them motivated, but I don’t think you’ll see it getting new voters out to the polls.

UPDATE: Seems Time.com touched on this a bit in mid-July:

Andrew Rasiej, founder of the Personal Democracy Forum, which tracks politics and technology, is skeptical. “Because the age difference between the candidates and the users on those networks is so great, the analogy would be a 45-year-old arriving at a frat party,” says Rasiej, who served as a chief technology advisor for Howard Dean’s 2004 presidential campaign. “Any campaign that tries these sites will come across as fabricated.” The real power of these social networking sites, he says, will come only when a candidate “actually uses MySpace and authentically networks through it. You won’t see that until today’s young people start running for office and naturally turning to sites like MySpace.”

In the meantime, candidates are grabbing for any online youth credibility they can. In some cases, that credibility comes from the candidates’ own kids. Ned Lamont’s daughter, Emily, runs his MySpace profile for her coursework as a Harvard sophomore. Twenty-year-old August Ritter also oversees the MySpace and Facebook profiles for his dad, Bill Ritter, a Democrat in Colorado’s gubernatorial race.

August isn’t worried about his dad’s lack of hands-on participation. He believes it’s enough that his online profiles even exist. “Young people don’t see campaigns investing in them; it’s the perception that they’re not worth the campaigns’ money,” August says. “When young people see that we are making an effort to communicate with them, they appreciate that we understand that their vote matters.”

My initial thought is, wait, you can run a MySpace page as coursework at Harvard? Second thought is, who would name their kid August?

Now, more seriously, I think that if used wisely, perhaps there is a way to tap into a bit of youth activism, sure. Especially if it’s family of the candidate running the site and not just some staffer. But does that translate to votes? Or are they just using different means to tap into the same people who are already motivated?

On a broader scale, does an interactive internet presence really do anything for a candidate? Blogs have begun to play larger roles since the 2004 cycle and this year will really shows whether or not netroots activism really works. MySpace and other networking sites are just extensions of that, other tools at the netroots activist’s disposal. The difference is the potential target audience. People that use MySpace and Facebook are primarily 15-25 year olds, a demographic that rarely determines the outcome of elections (which is a sad fact in and of itself). Blogs, on the other hand, have no set age demographic and are a lot more inviting to people seeking information on a candidate or campaign. They also go a lot farther in lending themselves to the “echo chamber” that drives some of the larger stories and get more traditional media attention.

Could having a MySpace presence hurt a candidate? Potentially. By using MySpace you associate yourself with MySpace’s public image baggage. I’m sure MySpace loves campaigns using their site, it gives them a bit more credibility and standing. Perhaps it does more for MySpace than the candidates themselves in that respect.

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