Obama Hijacks MySpace Page

Barack Obama’s campaign staff has taken over its MySpace page, taking it away from the fellow who created it and spent the last two and a half years of his life building it into the premier social network page for a 2008 candidate.

Is MySpace always mine or can it belong to someone else? At the cost of losing 160,000 friends, Democrat Barack Obama’s presidential campaign has taken over control of the MySpace page listed under his name on the popular social networking site.

For the past two and a half years, the page has been run by an Obama supporter from Los Angeles named Joe Anthony. At first, that arrangement was fine with the Obama team, which worked with Anthony on the content and even had the password to make changes themselves.

But as the site exploded in popularity in recent months, the campaign became concerned about an outsider having control of the content and responses going out under Obama’s name and told Anthony they wanted him to turn it over.

In this new frontier of online campaigning, it’s hard to determine the value of 160,000 MySpace friends—about four times what any other official campaign MySpace page has amassed. But the Obama campaign decided they wouldn’t pay $39,000, which is what Anthony said he proposed for his extensive work on the site, plus some additional fees up to $10,000.

MySpace reluctantly stepped in to settle the dispute and decided that Obama should have the rights to control http://www.myspace.com/barackobama as of Monday night, while Anthony had the right to take the contact information for all the friends who signed up while he was in control. That includes the right to tell them exactly how he feels about the Obama campaign.

This is an outrageous action on the part of MySpace and a petty and despicable one on the part of the Obama staff. Surely, Anthony should have the right to the content he built. And, goodness, the shortsightedness of alienating him in order to save a measly (by the standards of a multi-million dollar campaign) $49,000 is mindboggling.

The controversy has vaulted to the top of Digg, with 432 diggs at the time of writing. Anthony (current mood: “disappointed”) has blogged about it.

The campaign got involved in February and although at first it was very exciting, it quickly became clear that they just had no interest in me or my involvement. They only wanted to take control of the profile and get on with it. I bit the bullet for a while and kept working for the good of the campaign, but they quickly went from passive aggressive, to aggressive, and then eventually just rotten and dishonest.

For the past few weeks, the campaign decided it would be better if they just took control of the profile and we decided to try to come to some agreement. By this time, I didn’t have quite as much respect for the campaign guys, and frankly felt like I was just being used. They knew about this profile the entire time, and really just waited until it got enough media coverage and friends request so they could step in and bully me out of it.

The last few weeks were just insane. They kept scheduling phone conferences with me, I would wake up early that day after barely sleeping the night before, I’d take time off work, etc. and each after another would be postponed at the last minute. This went on for weeks.

[…]

Finally, Chris from the campaign emailed me, indicating that Myspace needed my consent to give them access to the profile. I replied that Mypace did not have my consent to grant access to the profile to anyone.

An hour or so later, I was blocked from the profile and the content was altered to redirect traffic to the new, “Official” profile. Myspace has in fact granted access to the profile without my permission.

This was not about money and I don’t believe that one person who has interacted with me via the Obama profile over the past couple of years would be able to say that my efforts were anything but sincere. This was about holding a campaign to their message, about acknowledging my work, and taking this community seriously.

I think I did the right thing. I wanted a fair outcome for everyone, but unfortunately that’s not what happened. In fact, I think this was enormously offensive to both me and the Myspace community. I could understand Myspace/Newscorp doing this, but didn’t think Obama’s campaign could have the audacity to do such a thing.

Apparently the message here is, as an individual, if you have too big of an impact, you’re just a liability.

This is how Obama lost my vote, and one of his strongest supporters.

The Obama campaign has been touted far and wide for its savvy use of social communities. In one fell swoop, it has undermined that. How amazingly stupid.

UPDATE: Micah Sifry has a very interesting discussion of the controversy and notes that the value of the contributions of someone like Anthony is hard to quantify:

Big sites like Flickr.com and Weblogs.com have earned their owners somewhere between $20 and $40 per member. Care2, the massive progressive email list vendor, charges about $1 per email address that they generate for a campaign. But it would be silly to suggest that Anthony generated 160,000 MySpace friends for Obama on his own–if he wasn’t plugging a very charismatic candidate like Obama he’d never have grown such a large site.

He reports that, in the campaign’s view, “Anthony was violating MySpace’s terms of service by falsely representing himself as Obama, and thus they didn’t have to pay him anything.” And, in defense of MySpace, he notes they have “come up with a positively Solomonic solution to that question, promising to restore Anthony’s network of 160,000 friends as soon as he picks a new url for whatever unofficial Obama fan page he may care to create.” Of course, after this, he will be unlikely to want to create a “fan” page.

This, though, is the key:

The most intriguing thing about this whole mess is this is the first time I can think of where the grass-roots activist at the bottom of the pile has a megaphone as big as the folks who tried to boss him around. Right now Joe Anthony is lying on his sofa, trying to gather his thoughts as he wonders what happens to all the sweat and passion he put into the last two and a half years for Barack Obama. As best as I can tell, he really doesn’t know what he should do, because he’s never been in these shoes, and he’s as bewildered as anyone could be about how it all came crashing to the ground. But unlike every activist who’s ever been crushed by events beyond his control, he can do something that just might give him a clue as to what comes next. He can ask his 160,000 friends for help.

Indeed.

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James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College and a nonresident senior fellow at the Scowcroft Center for Strategy and Security at the Atlantic Council. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm vet. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.

Comments

  1. At a minimum this creates a back PR story for the Obama campaign–and a pointless one at that. There had to be a way to make Anthony happy and still get want they needed.

    It shows, as you infer, that many people still do not understand the influence and significance of the internet.

  2. Tlaloc says:

    While it seems like a dumb PR move I wonder, isn’t this effectively the same as court rulings that have stripped domain names from “poachers” (people who grab domain names that match big companies in an attempt to force them to buy the name at an inflated price)?

    I’ve tended to disagree with that move by the courts but if the precedent is there it seems like this is the right move for Myspace to take.

  3. Perhaps the best way to get through to Mr. Obama is to use the medium of choice against him.

    http://my.barackobama.com/page/community/blog/jerradanderson

    I didn’t just sign up to create a blog and post that message. I’ve had that account for months and even gave $20 to his campaign. Perhaps he didn’t need to pay the $49k for the site but there is no way that bullying someone into giving something for free is the right move.