Candidate Profiles Pop Up on Facebook

By Alexander Baldinger
Special to The Washington Post
Monday, June 19, 2006

The campaign for Maryland's next governor has surfaced on Facebook.com, the popular social networking site used more often to get dates than to learn about political candidates.

According to profiles on the site created by college-age Democratic campaign workers, Douglas M. Duncan is interested in "Thinking Bigger!" Martin O'Malley is interested in "Moving Maryland Forward," and Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. is interested in "Getting terrible haircuts."

On Facebook, anyone from a supported college, high school or company with a valid e-mail account can create a profile, including a fake one like that of Maryland's governor. Although Ehrlich has found himself lampooned on Facebook, the campaigns of both Montgomery County Executive Duncan and Baltimore Mayor O'Malley have given the site their blessing, allowing campaign volunteers to create candidate profiles in an attempt to reach college-age voters.

"In 1968, Bobby Kennedy showed up and hung around the student center, and Gene McCarthy did the same. Facebook is the student center of college students these days," said Phil Noble, founder of PoliticsOnline, a Web site that examines the relationship between politics and the Internet.

Facebook, created by Harvard student Mark Zuckerberg in 2004, has become a cultural phenomenon among students who use it to post personal information such as relationship status, interests and activities, favorite music, party pictures and more. According to the latest numbers from comScore Networks, a firm that measures Internet traffic, Facebook tallied upwards of 7 billion page views during April 2006, making it the seventh-most visited site on the Web.

It didn't take long for political campaigns to see the potential.

"I got on Facebook around the time the 2004 elections were going on, and it was huge as far as students mobilizing and getting the word out," said Jahantab Siddiqui, 20, a University of Maryland student who works for the O'Malley campaign and was responsible for creating the Baltimore mayor's profile.

"I think I might have shown [the profile] to him once sometime last year," Siddiqui said.

The profiles for Duncan and O'Malley feature smiling photographs of the candidates, as well as basic information. Both are listed as married, reared in Rockville and liberal.

In O'Malley's profile under "Favorite Music" is U2, along with a plug for his own Celtic rock band, O'Malley's March. According to campaign spokesman Rick Abbruzzese, O'Malley's favorite U2 song is 1987's "Where The Streets Have No Name," a lament of the divide between Ireland's rich and poor.

Duncan's profile lists Frank Capra's 1939 classic "Mr. Smith Goes to Washington" and the 1993 comedy "Dave," starring Kevin Kline, as his favorite movies; "Harry Potter" is listed as his favorite book.

"A 'Terps for Duncan' member who was a sophomore from [the] University of Maryland posted the profile, and it was her idea," Duncan spokeswoman Jody Couser said in an e-mail. "I don't believe Doug has seen it."

The spoof profile for "Bob Ehrlich" was created by Lee Fang, president of the Maryland Federation of College Democrats. It lists the Republican governor as a "very conservative" politician whose interests include "raising more taxes in 16 months than Democrats did in 16 years" and "increasing college tuition by almost 50% in 4 short years."

"I wouldn't want to make up anything that wasn't factual or true," Fang said. "I think it's clear that it's a joke. My name's on there. I'm not trying to hide anything that I created it. Maybe making fun of his haircut."

A spokeswoman for Ehrlich, Shareese N. DeLeaver, declined to comment on the Facebook profile. "We're confident that constituents can tell the difference between political fact and political rhetoric," she said.

Representatives at Facebook recognize the problem of candidate misrepresentation.

"We've had some profiles set up for politicians that they haven't wanted and we've taken them down, but that's a pretty rare occasion," said Chris Kelly, Facebook's vice president of corporate development and chief privacy officer.

With the explosion in popularity of social networking sites such as Facebook and MySpace.com, candidates are beginning to see new, more direct ways to target the college voting bloc, often thought of as difficult to mobilize.

"The Facebook and the peer-to-peer stuff is where blogs were four years ago," PoliticsOnline's Noble added. "It is just the beginning of the beginning for the use of this."


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