Message Control

All day on Wednesday, Barack Obama’s campaign took quite a bit of flack for seizing control of a volunteer’s MySpace page, one with the fortunate address of myspace.com/barackobama.

It was a P.R. problem in the making — like something Disney would do to crack down on unauthorized Mickeys. Here were campaign operatives out to control the Obama message, even if that meant wiping out the 160,000 My Space friends who had signed on to the Obama site.

As it turns out, Joe Anthony, who supervised the site, asked for money for the years of past work he had done to maintain it. That has made a David vs. Goliath story quite a bit more murky. To the campaign’s defense, they didn’t have a mere volunteer on their hands, they had someone who wanted to be a de facto operative. That’s not to say Anthony had some other motive; it’s that he is in a different league than a regular volunteer.

But the whole episode does raise questions of how campaigns, rewarded in the media and the establishment for their ability to stay “on message,” can operate in the Internet environment where the audience can see right through it. What is the point of creating user-generated content for a favorite candidate if the campaign controls the message?

Miffed at first, Anthony has since gotten a call from Obama.

“I assured him that this is just a horrible thing that happened and obviously he wasn’t responsible,” Anthony said in a blog post. “It’ll take time for me to work this out and decide if I will personally continue to support Obama, regardless of how I feel about his campaign’s handling of this situation.” 

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