Internet site new political soapbox

Facebook has added a feature allowing political candidates to create profiles.

Karlee Weinmann

Amid another campaign-laden fall full of lawn signs and commercials, candidates again are looking for ways to capture the coveted college-age vote.

This election year, Facebook is lending them a helping hand.

The online profile site now allows candidates to create and maintain a profile. It also offers advertising access to draw users to these profiles.

Plans to integrate political candidates and Facebook emerged a few months ago, said Melanie Deitch, Facebook’s director of marketing.

“Social networking is the new platform,” she said, emphasizing its importance in reaching the youngest group of voters.

According to the Center for Information and Research on Civic Learning and Engagement, Voter turnout among 18- to 24-year-olds in 2004’s presidential election was just 47 percent, leaving most of the demographic an untapped resource for candidates.

Election 2006, Facebook’s new network made solely for politicians, launched Thursday.

Candidates will pay a minimum advertising price to maintain a profile. The idea of dealing space to candidates mimics what a federal law regulates in terms of broadcasting.

The law ensures that political candidates pay only the lowest ad rate, intending to create a level playing field for candidates regardless of campaign budget.

“There’s been a lot of interest (among political candidates),” Deitch said. “Facebook users are a politically vocal group. Political debate and conversations about social issues are hot topics on Facebook.”

About 1,600 senatorial, congressional and gubernatorial candidates nationwide have registered profiles in hopes of rallying support for the November elections.

Current Facebook users can search the network for the political candidates they support. The candidate’s profile functionality is the same as the traditional college student.

Mike Krueger, campaign manager for Gov. Tim Pawlenty, said he is developing a plan to use the wide-ranging access to college-age voters offered by Facebook.

Since its inception in February 2004, Facebook has grown exponentially, now boasting more than 9 million registered users in more than 40,000 college, regional, work and high school networks.

“It’s about communicating with people where they go and where they spend time,” Krueger said.

Krueger said many of these young adults are simply working to establish their political identities.

“It’s important to reach first- or second-time voters,” Krueger said.

Patty Wetterling’s campaign for U.S. Congress has been testing the viability of using the networking site through grassroots efforts.

One supporter set up an unofficial profile to encourage communication of Wetterling’s stances on various issues and to generate discussion about her campaign among the younger crowd on Facebook.

Corey Day, Wetterling’s campaign manager, said he liked how the site prompted discussion.

“We’re supportive of any mechanism used to get out and reach voters,” he said.

But not everyone thinks politicians using Facebook is a good idea, including electrical engineering sophomore Levi Glennie.

“It’s just another case when something like Facebook or MySpace is selling out,” Glennie said. “This is a world of capitalism.”

Marketing sophomore Joe Reichert said he likes the idea of having politicians connected to Facebook.

“If the alternative is not being exposed, then (Facebook offering profiles to candidates) isn’t a bad thing,” he said. “Information is never a bad thing.”

While it is anticipated to generate widespread debate and discussion on this election’s key issues, some students said they are apprehensive about forging a Facebook affiliation with particular candidates or viewpoints.

“My political views are my own,” said Glennie, adding that he has no plans to disclose his candidates of choice online.