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It’s well-understood that the Internet can make a big difference in political contests for things like raising money from small donors or gaining friends on social networks. But the web is equally great for spreading rumors, including false rumors.
Today, to try to stop at least the false ones, U.S. presidential candidate Barack Obama’s campaign has launched a new site called Fight the Smears. On it, the campaign includes source material for rumors — in this case, posts on anti-Obama blogs, broadcast news video clippings and such — along with its own refutations. It is a sort of Web 2.0 version of the letter-writing campaigns that candidates have traditionally asked their supporters to do for them.
Right now, it lets supporters send out email messages to their friends, an interface similar to the email option you see on newspaper sites’ stories. The site will also include a button that provides supporters with suggestions on how to fight back against rumors, as well as a way to alert the campaign of new rumors that start popping up (according to this article, although I don’t see these options yet).
Note from Web2.0 Land: If the Obama campaign wants to truly be web savvy, it should also include the host of social media share features seen on most tech web publications — the Digg and Redditt voting buttons, the Delicious share button, the Facebook share button, and others.
Content-wise, a quick look at the site shows the campaign is using a mixture of he-said-she-said arguments along with more substantive information to debunk what it considers smears. For example, one popular rumor is that Obama’s wife, Michelle, gave an anti-white tirade back in 2004, and that video proof will emerge in force later this election cycle when it can do the most damage to Obama’s campaign. The site includes a list of reasons why the rumor is wrong, such as: Michelle was never in the location where the video was supposedly filmed, the rumor-mongers have produced nothing near-substantive, etc. (However, the campaign has yet to debunk this information).
If you’re an Obama supporter, then you’ll probably conclude the rumored tape is a smear; if you’re not an Obama supporter you’re still maybe thinking “we’ll see.” But that’s not really the point. The point is that the Obama camp is creating an online resource for political reporters, bloggers and others to see a community-generated database of rumors and how the campaign is fighting back — it is trying to shape the debate.
Whether or not you support Obama, this is another forward-thinking move by his campaign in using the web to its advantage. Obama’s Facebook page already has nearly a million supporters, he is one of the most popular Twitter users and most importantly, his campaign grew legs due to massively successful online fundraising from millions of small donors.
Obama’s opponent, Republican nominee John McCain, has been scrambling to develop his own web-wide efforts — this type of rumor-debunking page is another item for his campaign’s to-do list.
[Disclosure: I’m leaning towards voting for Obama. The problem is I don’t support his backwards trade policies.]
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