I’ve noted the parallels between grassroots internet political activity and fandom on here several times, but if you ever doubted I had a point, check out, a social networking site for supporters of his presidential bid. Launching this just days after making his candidacy official in a speech in which he called for what the bloggers like to call “fatter internet tubes*,” it just goes to show that whatever his political strengths and weaknesses, this guy gets the internet and has good insight into how to get the people who want to identify with you to rally around and start working for you. He’s been called a rock star, and he’s sure working the Net like one. Here’s the touch that really nails it: At the very bottom it reads “Powered by Obama ’08 (and supporters just like you).” Genius. Though I’d get rid of those parentheses.

* Bloggers do a lot of appropriating stupid things politicians say about the internet into their own language. First they started saying “the internets” to mock Bush who used that term in his State of the Union address last year. The “tubes” terminology comes from Sen. Stevens of the ghastly DOPA legislation in a speech where he demonstrated his ignorance of that which he was proposing to ban. Co-opting language is a good form of resistance in many ways, look at “queer” for a good example, but in this case I wonder if it ends up reinforcing the perspectives of the ignorant rather than serving as a form of challenge.

Update: Fred Stutzman has posted a thoughtful analysis of the Obama site here.

Trashing Celebs Online? Not in Korea!

AsiaMedia reports that the Korean government is going to crack down on cybercrimes including saying “defamatory” things about celebrities online:

The move comes after many celebrities claimed to have suffered psychological damage after defamatory comments were posted online. Political user-created content (UCC) is also in the police’s crosshairs.

[...]“Unlike previous crackdowns, which focused on specific types of crimes, this crackdown will be a dragnet that targets every kind of cyber offense,” an official at the National Police Agency said.

[...]In January, pop singer Yuni killed herself after suffering from depression, and her agency claims she was hurt by malicious comments posted on her blog and other Web sites. Such comments continued after her death. Some Internet users have comments making fun of the late female comedian Kim Hyung-eun. Actress Kim Tae-hee, pop singer Rain and transgender entertainer Harisu filed suits against Internet users who defamed them on the Internet.

I know nothing about Korean law and very little about the Korean social context in which this occurs, so other than noting that Korean youth are among the world’s most wired and tech savvy, I pass this along without comment. If there are any Koreans reading, I’d love to hear your take on this. Doomed to fail? Typical? Reasonable?

Historical Precedents 101

People are notorious for overestimating both the novelty and tranformative potential of new technologies. So it’s good to be reminded now and again that the internet is not the first communication technology that disrupted relations between the famous and their followers. Here’s Carolyn Marvin writing about the telephone in her classic book When Old Technologies Were New (1988, pages 66-67):

Not even the famous, those who are widely known but personally remote, were exempt from the reorganization of social geography that made socially distant persons seem accessible and familiar. In contrast to Scientific American‘s utopian yearning for a future community where telephones made everyone available to everyone else was a businessman’s account, quoted in Western Electrician, of the telephone “maniacs” who plagued the governer of New York, Chauncey Depew: “Everytime they see anything about him in the newspapers, they call and tell him ‘what a fine letter he wrote’ or ‘what a lovely speech he made,’ or ask if this or that report is true; and all this from people who, if they came to his office, would probably never say more than ‘Good Morning.’

“Telephone maniacs?” Doesn’t sound at all like “internet saddos” now does it?

The year of that quote? 1897.

Celebrity stalking for fun and profit

File under Fun But Creepy Panopticon Effects:

I know we all try to be sophisticated and cool and pretend we are not impressed by mere celebrities when they stroll by us as we go about our daily business, but truth be told, you get just a little giddy, don’t you? Even if you’re not a fan?

I was shopping on Christmas eve and saw both Jerry Seinfeld and Mariah Carey (no, no, not together). Unlike all my friends, I only know the topics of a few episodes of Seinfeld and, unlike most of America, I don’t pay much attention to the trials and tribulations of Mariah Carey (though I worked in a record store when her debut record came out and remember the splash she made very well). But damned if I didn’t mention having seen them to everyone I talked to for weeks and if I wasn’t somehow strangely proud to have seen two such A-list celebrities.

So along comes a website to let people share these brushes with greatness. Oh how happy for those lucky fans. Except, wait a minute, don’t fans sometimes do stuff like, you know, murder their idols? Is letting everyone know where they are each and every day really such a good idea? George Clooney doesn’t think so and has issued this exhortation to fans:

There is a simple way to render these guys useless. Flood their Web site with bogus sightings. Get your clients to get 10 friends to text in fake sightings of any number of stars. A couple hundred conflicting sightings and this Web site is worthless. No need to try to create new laws to restrict free speech. Just make them useless. That’s the fun of it. And then sit back and enjoy the ride. Thanks, George.

Well, apparently his fans listened, except for one little thing, they only seem to have sent in fake George sightings (which are very funny to read through). The site is making the most of it, not just by collecting and displaying these, but by selling a limited edition “George Clooney Stalked Me” t-shirt.

Does this site go too far? Probably, but I can certainly understand the desire for a site where people can say “omigod I just saw [celebrity name here] and he looked totally hot!” or “I saw so and so at the ATM machine and she has really skinny legs!”

Either way, I think Clooney’s got the right strategy for fighting back, leave the courts out of it and turn their own tools against them.

Many thanks to Brenna for the tip.