TOPICS > Politics

Campaigns Have Message Discipline Online, but Can’t Control Facebook Groups

March 15, 2012 at 12:00 AM EDT
As part of our ongoing series on social media this election season, Ray Suarez and journalists Lauren Ashburn and Howard Kurtz of the Daily Download discuss how President Obama's campaign documentary bypasses traditional television advertising and how Facebook groups spring up to support and oppose political candidates.

JEFFREY BROWN: And finally tonight, Ray Suarez continues our regular look at the presidential campaign as it plays out in social media and on the Web.

RAY SUAREZ: In a move symbolizing the new way of campaigning on the Internet, President Obama’s reelection team has bypassed television ads to release a documentary film online. “The Road We’ve Traveled” will be screened for the president’s supporters tonight.

Let’s take a look.

NARRATOR: His advisers would ask, where to begin? Which urgent need would he put first?

RAHM EMANUEL (D), mayor of Chicago: Which is one, which is two, which is three, which is four, which is five? Where do you start?

VICE PRESIDENT JOSEPH BIDEN: If we don’t do this now, it will be a generation before 30 million people have health insurance.

RAY SUAREZ: And with more on how campaigns are evolving on the Web, we’re joined again by two journalists from the new website Daily Download.

Lauren Ashburn is the site’s editor in chief and formerly with USA Today Live and Gannett. Howard Kurtz is Newsweek’s Washington bureau chief and host of CNN’s “Reliable Sources.”

So, bypass buying all that national airtime. Bypass making deals with networks and television stations. Just make it available to watch wherever.

A big deal?

LAUREN ASHBURN, To everyone. It is a big deal.

This is primary way that the Obama campaign is communicating with people. They feel like, if they can put in a place on YouTube or Facebook where you have similar people who like Obama, who then forward it to their friends and their friends, and so on and so on, that they will get more traction that way.

HOWARD KURTZ, Newsweek-CNN: And this is a classic case — although the campaign is billing this as a documentary film, clearly, this is sheer propaganda, even if it is produced by an Oscar-winning director.

And you can tell from that clip it’s the stirring story of a brave president who overcame a fiscal calamity, very effective. And people can watch it, and they don’t have to depend on networks showing 20 seconds, 30 seconds, 40 seconds. People watch the whole thing.

LAUREN ASHBURN: And it’s also a great tool for fund-raising for them, because if you go to Obama’s Web site, where they are playing the trailer and then will ultimately be playing the documentary, you actually have to give your e-mail address before you can watch the trailer.

HOWARD KURTZ: Otherwise, you can’t get any access?

LAUREN ASHBURN: Well, it’s a little tricky get out of there.

I was trying to sort of hold my iPad one way and get out, but you can’t do it. So they’re using this as sort of the new one-click way to get your attention. And. . .

RAY SUAREZ: Isn’t this just a new way of doing a very old thing? Party political broadcasts have been around forever. Profiles of candidates made by the party apparatus have been around for a very long time. We’re just trying to catch up with how people consume media, aren’t we?

LAUREN ASHBURN: Well, I think that it’s an interesting point. Yes, more people are online. People are going away from traditional media.

But, as you said at the very beginning, this is a very cost-effective way for them to get their message out.

HOWARD KURTZ: Campaign ads cost millions of dollars, which flow to networks and local stations. You avoid that.

And also they have all kinds of bells and whistles, the Obama reelection campaign does. For example, if you watch a YouTube video provided by Obama that’s about Illinois, a list of your Facebook friends from Illinois pops up and you can click a button and you can share the video with them. So, it’s, as Lauren says, a good organizing tool.

LAUREN ASHBURN: And fund-raising. You can get — they can get your money right out of your pocket with one click. You know, here, join, give me $25 or whatever. And you can’t do that from traditional media.

RAY SUAREZ: So it’s more than just passive consumption. It’s a way of drawing you into a whole set of relationships, possibility for more content and click-through. There’s a lot going on there.

HOWARD KURTZ: Sharing and contributing.

RAY SUAREZ: Another place where there’s a lot of activity is on Facebook. And campaigns, I guess, are still finding their way, but very active in that very popular venue.

LAUREN ASHBURN: Well, not only are the campaigns active, but we found that people who don’t like a particular candidate are also very active.

Let’s take a look at some of the pictures. One that we found, we absolutely love is anti-Romney Facebook group, 1 Million Irish Setters Against Mitt Romney. And here you have the dog on top of the car because of the incident that happened 30 years ago.

HOWARD KURTZ: Thirty years ago, right. And it’s been a great organizing tool and it’s very funny. But there are also groups like Mitt Romney is a Big Government RINO.


RAY SUAREZ: Republican in name only.

LAUREN ASHBURN: That’s correct.

HOWARD KURTZ: Republican in name only. Thank you for. . .

RAY SUAREZ: Not an African large mammal.


LAUREN ASHBURN: Without the H.

HOWARD KURTZ: And what about Newt?

LAUREN ASHBURN: Yes, take a look at Newt. And here’s the negative Newt Web site on Facebook, the page on Facebook, No to Newt Gingrich.

And if you look, the little girl here in the front has a big yawn on her face, very subtle. But each of these have thousands of followers. And some have more.

HOWARD KURTZ: There are also less polite ones, like Newt Gingrich, Will You Please Shut Up? And there’s one that has a picture of Newt Gingrich as the devil.

So it’s a way for people who are animated enough by politics so that they don’t like somebody who’s running to share that. And then when you turn to President Obama, there’s one group that had like the title, I Hate It When I Wake Up in the Morning and Barack Obama Is President.

But there’s also a group called Nobama Countdown, Nobama — 226,000 people liked it, and you can buy T-shirts and caps.

LAUREN ASHBURN: Again, it’s commerce, right.

HOWARD KURTZ: The president with a red slash.

LAUREN ASHBURN: Right. And if you take this out of the realm of people who don’t like the candidates and actually take it to people who do and the campaigns themselves and their own website, President Obama is by far ahead of all of the other candidates.

He has 26 — almost 26 million likes on his Facebook page. And if you look at the other ones, Gingrich is about 300,000, Romney not very high.

HOWARD KURTZ: Romney is a million-and-a-half and Santorum’s about 175,000. Of course, Obama has been president for almost four years and has had time to build this infrastructure.

RAY SUAREZ: So, do we know yet or are we going to have to sort of live our way into this whether this is more substantial than just clicking on like and being one of the nominal members of a site with a million-and-a-half people? Does it turn into anything?


I feel problem with this kind of advocacy is — and journalism, as some are calling this documentary, is that you only get one side of the story. And instead of being able to be presented with both sides of the story, it’s very polarized, a la FOX News on the right, MSNBC on the left.

And it has that same feel, that you only get the information online that you want to get.

HOWARD KURTZ: I don’t know that an anti-Gingrich or Romney or Obama group on Facebook that has a lot of people liking it is going to have a big impact on the campaign, but this is how people organize themselves these days online.

They create a sense of community. They share information. Sometimes, the information might be slanted or biased or completely inaccurate. But you have to play in this arena. That’s why the campaigns are devoting a lot of attention to Facebook, and that’s why the opponents of these candidates are also ginning up these groups.

RAY SUAREZ: Howie, Lauren, good to talk to you both. To be continued.