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Instant Messenger Delivers Political Pop-Ups

Wednesday, October 27, 2004; 9:37 AM

Welcome to the next great leap forward in online political attack ads: instant messaging pop-ups.

Some computer users are reporting a pop-up that appears on their monitors when the only application running is America Online's Instant Messenger.

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The ad features a sallow-looking headshot of Democratic vice presidential candidate Sen. John Edwards (N.C.), gazing across a wall-to-wall field of $50 and $100 bills. The text reads, "Learn The Truth About John Edwards" and offers viewers the chance to click on a link. That link takes them to a Web site for a group called The Truth About Trial Lawyers. The sites feature two videos excoriating Edwards's history as a trial lawyer. A petition on the site urges people to "Tell John Edwards to urge his friends to: Stop suing our doctors! Stop abusing our courts! Stop wrecking our economy!"

The ad and site are paid for by the November Fund, a group supported by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce. It was established to urge tort reform and raise support against Edwards's bid for the vice presidency. The chamber has spent $3 million on the fund so far, according to an October filing with the Internal Revenue Service, which maintains a searchable database on so-called 527 advocacy groups.

Shelley Hymes, a spokeswoman for the November Fund, said the campaign began last Monday and would run through Election Day. She said that feedback "has been terrific" from the technology community and from people who received the ad. She said the group has gotten no complaints, though a Google search reveals griping about the ads on several online weblogs.

AOL accepts political advertising on its service (as does washingtonpost.com) as well as through IM, though spokesman Andrew Weinstein declined to name most other political groups that have bought ad space. The Democratic National Committee runs ads through AOL IM, but not as pop-ups.

Tom Herrity, chief executive of Democracy Data & Communications LLC, the Alexandria, Va.-based public relations firm that made the ad buy, said he believes the November Fund advertisement is the first time that AOL's IM pop-up service is being used for political purposes.

Herrity, Weinstein and Hymes declined to disclose how much the November Fund paid for the ad. An IRS filing shows that the group paid $200,000 to Democracy Data & Communications in late September for Internet advertising expenses.

A Net Gain?

For anyone who has ever wondered how domain name policy could ever be exciting, here's the answer: fumble the transfer of the "dot-net" domain from one manager to another, and risk a temporary blackout in heavily traveled neighborhoods on the Internet. That's what Mountain View, Calif.-based VeriSign Inc.is warning could happen if the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers should hand over the fourth-largest Internet domain to an inexperienced operator.

Dot-net turns out to be prime real estate, despite the larger number of Web sites featuring a ".com" ending. E-mail service providers like Comcast and EarthLink use it to underpin their services, as do major sites like Amazon.com.

While that much is at stake, an executive at one of the companies gunning to win control of .net from VeriSign says the huffing and puffing is a bit extreme. "There's no question that .net helps underpin the Internet. The one [assertion] that strikes me as incongruous is that if you touch .net, everything will fall apart," said Ram Mohan, chief technical officer of Afilias, a Dublin-based Internet addressing firm.

Robert MacMillan, washingtonpost.com Tech Policy Editor


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