Obama Launches Pre-Emptive Strike Against Internet Smear Campaigns

Hoping to blunt the impact of an expected torrent of negative campaigning, the presidential campaign of presumptive Democratic nominee Barack Obama has launched a Web site dedicated to dispelling rumors and myths about him.

Obama’s campaign launched a site it calls “FightTheSmears” on Thursday, posting several so-called smears taken from various media sources and juxtaposing those rumors with what it says is the truth.

In addition to being a way to rebut rumor and innuendo, the site is also designed to use social media to spread the word about Obama, with users able to send pages from the site directly to up to 10 e-mail addresses. YouTube video clips are embedded into the site as well.

Finding the Truth

The site lists five such smears — most of them originating in conservative outlets such as Fox News — and responses from the campaign labeled “the truth.”

For instance, the site posts a much-whispered rumor that Obama’s wife, Michelle, is caught on tape uttering a racial epithet, referring to white people as “whitey.” The site notes that several outlets have referred to the rumor of such a tape’s existence, including conservative radio talk host Rush Limbaugh and several bloggers.

“No such tape exists,” the site states.

Proactive Approach

Other rumors and gossip addressed on the site includes reports that Obama has refused to make his birth certificate public — a copy can be viewed on the site — and reports that Obama is Muslim.

The new site launches as the parties gear up for their respective national conventions later this summer and what will likely be a hard-fought general election campaign.

For many Democrats, seeing Obama being aggressively proactive at responding to rumors may be a heartening sight, especially since many were critical of 2004 Democratic nominee John Kerry for waiting too long to respond to attacks on his Vietnam War service record.

“What we saw with Kerry’s campaign is that a rumor which is not addressed quickly will spread and seep into the consciousness of the public,” Len Porcano, chief technology at IT consulting and strategy firm Novisi, told TechNewsWorld.

Tech Strategy

The site is “an excellent move,” Porcano added.

“What it does is provide both mainstream media as well as the blogosphere with an official response, and talking points to address the false rumor,” he said. “This type of rapid response should prevent false rumors from taking root and affecting public perception of Obama. Consider it something akin to the patriot missile of modern political campaigns. Its primary goal is to provide sufficient enough defense to allow Obama to stay on topic and focused on the issues, which is where his strength lies.”

The campaign may need to hone its search engine optimization strategy.

The site doesn’t yet appear on the first page of Google results for phrases such as “Obama rumor,” “Obama smears” or “Obama Muslim.” That is likely to change rapidly, however, if bloggers and others begin linking to the site, driving it up the algorithmic search rankings.

“If a voter hears a rumor something about Obama and they’re not sure if it’s true or not, many of them are going to Google it,” branding consultant Anthony Citrano told TechNewsWorld.

“I know several people on the campaign, and I can tell you hands down Obama has the better technology strategy” of the two major candidates, he noted. “There is an innate generational understanding of technology in these guys’ bones — most of them grew up with it as an integral part of their daily life.”

Election 2.0

The move may also signal a more prominent role in the presidential campaign for the Web this year. Obama has already motivated tens of thousands of younger voters to become engaged in the process — YouTube videos in support of him became huge hits during the primary season — and using the tools of that generation sends a strong message, said marketing consultant and author Shel Horowitz.

“I think this is brilliant both from tactical and public relations points of view,” Horowitz told the TechNewsWorld. “It provides a place to defuse the vicious attacks and slanders that we all know are coming. It also says to Gen Y and Z that ‘Obama gets it — he’s one of us.'”

The Obama campaign will need to be extra vigilant to ensure the site doesn’t come under attack from hackers, he added. “Now, the challenge will be to let people know about the site so that they can refer the URL to their friends who believe what they hear on Fox.”

The Internet will play a huge role in the upcoming election, commented Porcano.

“There are countless videos already up on YouTube which document every flip-flop, foible and misstep a candidate makes. Overall, it is going to force candidates to be more genuine and less a creation of their political operations, which is a very good thing in the end,” he said.

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