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Dated, But Then, So Am I

PoliticsTechnologyThis little piece is a relative antique on the Internet. It’s been around for two days now. It seems, however, that some politicians are finally paying attention to MySpace – but in a good way.

Allan Lichtman isn’t your typical MySpace user… Lichtman, a Democrat, is running for U.S. Senate in Maryland, and he’s hoping the exposure among younger voters will give him an edge.

The article is actually quite good at telling the story of why politicos fear things like this, but it does it in a way almost imperceptible to readers. It’s buried in this line:

A page devoted to Vice-President Dick Cheney calls him the “VP in charge of funk.” Cheney’s office says it does not endorse the site.

Politicians feel that using a technology is the equivalent of endorsing a technology – but only in certain circumstances. For instance, if you use Windows XP on all your PCs and they’re all running office, there is no fear of being viewed as endorsing the Wintel package over Apple.

If you use a service like MySpace, and include a profile of the candidate, and the candidate keeps it up-to-date, that (internally at least) is viewed as an endorsement.

If you link to anything, you are endorsing everything that link may lead you to – the content of the actual linked page, the ads that run on it, the links it contains, and the content of those pages.

It’s kind of an odd standard that is used, but in over 12 years of doing online politics, I have run into it over and over again.

I think it stems from the bizarre media reactions to damn near everything. If I look at a web page, 90% of the time I’m not even aware of what ad is on the page. Given that most sites use a rotating ad system, you generally have no way of knowing.

In the real world, the standard would be seen as ridiculous. No reporter is going to write an article about the fact that your campaign ad ran on the same page as an ad for a dating service, or a movie theater. If you gave an interview to a magazine, and the magazine had ads for Axe Body Spray, nobody would care.

Yet a political site linking to content on a website with a banner ad for the same dating service or the same body spray would – until recently – have generated a story in many campaigns (mostly local, but still…).

ntil we get over this bizarre perception that the Internet is strange and unusual and somehow radically different from the real world, you will have politicians who decry that which they do not use or understand. They’ll shout for regulation or censure.

Perhaps the best thing Allan Lichtman has done in this campaign is show other politicians that a site with 90% harmless content and 10% disconcerting content is no different than a newspaper that carries ads for bars, strip clubs, or XXX movies theaters within its pages. You can interact with both, without endorsing the content. You can communicate with both, without aligning yourself and your beliefs with every other user.

Written by Michael Turk