Obama Campaign Asks: Is It MySpace or Yours?

Thursday, May 3, 2007

In the first MySpace skirmish of the 2008 presidential race, no one's come out looking good.

Not MySpace, the popular social networking site. Not Sen. Barack Obama (D-Ill.), who until earlier this week had more "friends" on the site -- about 160,000 -- than almost all the other candidates combined. Not Joe Anthony, the 29-year-old paralegal who created a MySpace fan page that carried Obama's name.

In November 2004, after hearing Obama's keynote speech at the Democratic National Convention, Anthony began adding friends to his Obama page. By the time Obama announced his candidacy earlier this year, he had about 30,000 friends. When MySpace started its Impact Channel as the central hub of its candidate profiles two months ago, Obama's camp used Anthony's page as its official MySpace page. For weeks, Anthony worked with Obama's online team as the senator continued to attract more friends.

But after Anthony's relationship with Obama's team soured -- their accounts vary as to why -- MySpace blocked Anthony from logging on to his Obama page earlier this week.

Obama's online team sought to manage the page and its growing number of supporters.

"We wanted to work with Joe. But at the end of the day, this page is bigger than him," said campaign spokeswoman Jen Psaki. "This is uncharted territory for everyone involved, and look, six, five months ago, could we have predicted that a MySpace page would have 160,000 friends?"

Anthony, meanwhile, asked to be compensated for his work, to the tune of $39,000 plus fees.

"It's not really about the money. The past 2 1/2 years that I spent on that page is worth more than $39,000. It's symbolic. It's me saying, 'I won't be bullied around,' " Anthony said.

Jeff Berman, a MySpace spokesman, said that Obama has a right to the Web address containing his name, and that although Anthony will get to keep his original fan page, he'll be given a different address.

"It's a bad situation all around," said Micah Sifry, who first wrote about the MySpace brouhaha on TechPresident.com. "What we're seeing is this bottom-up, voter-generated effort on behalf of a candidate colliding with the top-down, let's-control-the-message style of campaigning. And it's playing out across the MySpace battlefield."

As of yesterday afternoon, Obama's new official MySpace page had about 17,000 friends. And Anthony was not one of them.

-- Jose Antonio Vargas

© 2007 The Washington Post Company