This seems like it was bound to happen with Obama's top-down campaign structure as it grows by leaps and bounds. With much of that energy coming from a bottom up movement that's responsible for that growth, the campaign moves in to take control of the decentralized action.
The case in point is the myspace/barackobama homepage. The Battle to Control Obama's Myspace has been unfolding behind the scenes, and it reads like it ended pretty ugly. Write's Sifry:
How all this happened is a complicated tale that is still unfolding, and none of the parties involved--Anthony, the Obama online team, and the MySpace political operation--emerge from this story unscathed. Speaking on background, Obama campaign staffers are spreading word that Anthony just wanted a "big payday." Anthony in turn has posted a missive on his blog (that was originally sent to me as an email) accusing the Obama team of "bullying...[and] rotten and dishonest" behavior. However one parses those accusations (more below), the Obama campaign's reputation as the most net-savvy of 2008 has taken a big hit.
I can totally understand that the campaign would want to take control of the domain. The easiest solution would have been to hire Joe Anthony, a paralegal living in Los Angeles, to move to the campaign HQ's and start working on it there. The second easiest solution would have been to buy it from the volunteer. When that got onto the table, says Anthony:
I considered the time I had put into it from January 1st of this year, not counting the previous two years. It was about $39,000. Plus I asked that if any fees were to be paid to MySpace by the campaign up to that point in time, those should be shared with me, up to $10,000. There was no counter-offer. They said they didn't have any money.
The Obama campaign should have faxed him the contract immediately. Instead, write's Sifry:
t appears the Obama internet team was shocked by the size of Anthony's proposal and argued to themselves that it was proof that he was just in it for the money, even though campaigns like theirs regularly give tens of thousands of dollars to highpriced media consultants who would give their eye-teeth to deliver 160,000 rabid activists to a campaign. Instead to them, Anthony's bid was all the more reason to get control of the site. Obama's staffers are now spreading the word that Anthony wanted a big payday, including a huge percentage of any ad buys on MySpace. I have a copy of Anthony's email proposal, however, and it contradicts that claim.
Yea, $49K to deliver 160,000 supporters; that's .32 cents each for opted in and engaged activsts. A bargain. [The amount was actually up to $44K] $50,000 is what it takes to advertise on the Liberal Ad Network for two weeks. It's a minor expenditure in the grand scheme of things. But instead:
Whatever the case, at this point it appears the Obama people simply decided that they would get control of the myspace.com/barackobama url by going around Anthony and getting MySpace to lock down his access to it. In their view, Anthony was violating MySpace's terms of service by falsely representing himself as Obama, and thus they didn't have to pay him anything. The worst that would happen, they reasoned, is that they would have to rebuild the candidate's network of friends.
So Obama starts over. The company representative Jeff Berman said that MySpace is going to promising to restore Anthony's network of 160,000 friends as soon as he picks a new url for whatever unofficial Obama fan page he may care to create, which is interesting. Micah raises some great questions that are raised from the incident:
Update [2007-5-2 10:4:35 by Jerome Armstrong]:
But this latest episode in the evolving interaction between voter-generated media and campaign-controlled content raises several unsettled issues:
*If it weren't for the hundreds of hours put into sites like MySpace by passionate volunteers like Joe Anthony, would the folks at MySpace even have anything like an Impact Channel? The only reason campaigns and advertisers are taking sites like MySpace seriously is because they have millions of users; shouldn't the volunteers who help draw the crowds to these new online town halls get some kind of compensation beyond a little modest recognition from political professionals now and then?
*Is it true that once a voter-generated site gets major traction, the campaign affected has to control it? Can a front-running presidential campaign--even one as devoted to empowering supporters to take their own initiatives and connect to each other through social network tools as the Obama campaign--afford a major site run by a campaign volunteer outside their control? Is such control even possible?
*Why couldn't the Obama people find the money to work out an amicable arrangement with Anthony? What are they spending the $26 million they raised last quarter on?
The most intriguing thing about this whole mess is this is the first time I can think of where the grass-roots activist at the bottom of the pile has a megaphone as big as the folks who tried to boss him around. Right now Joe Anthony is lying on his sofa, trying to gather his thoughts as he wonders what happens to all the sweat and passion he put into the last two and a half years for Barack Obama. As best as I can tell, he really doesn't know what he should do, because he's never been in these shoes, and he's as bewildered as anyone could be about how it all came crashing to the ground. But unlike every activist who's ever been crushed by events beyond his control, he can do something that just might give him a clue as to what comes next. He can ask his 160,000 friends for help.
Nothing on BarackObama's blog
about this yet. I'm sure the campaign would rather it went away, but this sort of thing is pretty much unprecedented, though not unexpected, so we are going to see a lot of debate over the issue and it's ramifications.