Thursday, March 22, 2007

Politics And The Public Domain

The internet has done much to mobilize ordinary citizens into political activists. Anyone with a PC can publish a blog and bloviate like a pundit. We can do research like strategists and network like lobbyists. We can provide instant and overwhelming feedback to media outlets and elected officials. Add some graphics software and a common repository like Youtube and suddenly we're able to launch our own advertising campaign. It's an amazing phenomenon already and it's still in its infancy.

We saw a very clever ad for Obama this week, a makeover of an old Apple classic. The creator anonymously posted it on Youtube. While the impact of the ad is definitely at Hillary's expense, it's not really a specific attack on her so much as a statement about breaking out of politics as usual. The ad ends with an "O" that morphs into As of right now the ad has received almost 1,900,000 views.

Obama denied commissioning the ad but he didn't immediately denounce it. Why would he? It's a darn effective ad despite the fact that he's been working to craft an image that places him more above the political fray. He may wish he had denounced it, though, now that it turns out the mystery creator had some distant tie to his campaign. And that's the trouble, really -- candidates who accept such gestures of netroots support do so at their own risk. While the free, spontaneous publicity may be nice, they can quickly lose control of their message. They also risk guilt by association, depending on the character of their unsolicited campaign partners.

It is not beyond believable for me that a guy who makes his living in politics, Philip de Villas, would apply his craft to support his personal candidate choice (without the candidate's knowledge). I would, if I had the talent. De Villas explained his actions yesterday and I do believe that he acted without the knowledge of his company (they are contracted by Dem candidates other than just Obama). But the fact is, no candidate can afford to be naive about this new reality going forward. They can either embrace whatever assistance netizens want to provide and give their campaign over to the public domain OR they can denounce netizen activity in order to maintain control. It's going to have to be one or the other -- I don't see how they can have their cake and eat it, too.

p.s. Now that de Villas is no longer employed, maybe the Obama campaign should hire him. He does very good work!


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