Facebook.com becomes political force


Want to reach out to Mitt Romney? Just “poke “him.

Facebook.com, a popular Web site originally used by college students to track photos, profiles and the latest buzz about their inner ring of friends, is now used by Web-savvy presidential candidates.

Romney recently became part of the Facebook crowd, posting lengthy profiles and photos in an election cycle when many presidential candidates are looking to the Web to reach out to supporters.

“Anytime that you are dealing with introducing anybody and organizing a big campaign, you use every tool at your disposal,” said Kevin Madden, communications director for Romney and a member of Facebook.com.

“There’s your literally door-to-door community outreach … and then there is the Internet organizing, which is online communities where people can organize over the Internet and that is one of the things that we are looking to do.”

Romney’s profile provides a way for supporters or Internet friends to follow his cross-country travels, browse photos and video clips, write him messages and virtually “poke” him — a message with no real purpose except for a friendly hello — with the simple click of a mouse.

Facebook members can see that the 59-year-old former governor of Massachusetts enjoys listening to Roy Orbison and Alan Jackson. In his free time, Romney also enjoys spending time with his family, running, skiing, horseback riding, waterskiing and watching movies.

The profile is all about the Republican, but users won’t be fooled: the campaign helps to run the Web site. The plan is to combine it with the other 56 pro-Romney groups that are already on Facebook, Madden said. And even though Facebook is still used predominantly by the 20-something set, Madden insists the campaign is targeting all ages.

“We are looking for everybody, young, old, it doesn’t matter I think that with the Internet nowadays it doesn’t have any age barriers,” Madden said. “If anything, it helps people who are young supporters meet other young supporters and older supporters meet other older supporters. It really goes across generations.”

The largest group supporting Romney has more than 3,000 members and the interest continues to grow. However, Romney is not the first to use the Internet as a form of outreach for the 2008 presidential election.

Democratic Sens. Barack Obama of Illinois and Hillary Rodham Clinton of New York both have Facebook profiles, but they do not include the amount of personal information advertised by Romney. After an easy search, users can find out Obama’s birthday (Aug. 4, 1961) and his “plans for 2008.” Users can also search Clinton’s Facebook photo album.

As of this week, Obama had more than 2,900 wall posts or shout-outs from his closest acquaintances.

Clinton also used the Internet to announce her candidacy via a video clip that aired on her Web site, and has also used other forms of the Internet to campaign.

“The Clinton campaign is progressively using technology and the Internet to facilitate the conversation with the senator including Webcasts, social-networking sites, blogs, blog outreach, blog ads, her Web site and other mechanisms, which allow people to interact and learn more about the senator,” said Peter Daou, Internet director for Clinton.

Dan Kaslow, a junior at the University of Miami and executive producer of “Off the Wire,” said more and more politicians will turn to Facebook and other Internet mediums to reach the younger generations.

“I think it’s a good way to reach the youth, seeing that everyone my age is on Facebook on a regular basis and do pay attention to the different groups, group invitations, blogging, other students and their friends.

“I think it will lead to a bigger involvement with younger people in politics because it’s reaching them in a medium they’re used to and a medium they use a lot,” Kaslow said.