Bloggers and thefacebook.com are taking part in MSA elections

Bryce Haugen

As the 2005 Minnesota Student Association presidential campaign heats up, technology is playing a greater role than ever before, candidates said.

MSA leaders and candidates said they keep updated on campaign news through several Web logs, known as blogs. Meanwhile, supporters of each campaign communicate through thefacebook.com, an online social network. Campaign Web sites also feature candidates’ biographies and stances.

MSA Forum member Aaron Solem, who writes one of the two blogs MSA candidates frequently visit, said technology has already affected this election cycle.

“We’re seeing candidates scrutinized much more often,” he said. “We’re seeing a freer, more open debate of ideas.”

Meet the bloggers

Solem said he started his blog, titled “Peace in Our Time,” to improve his writing skills. But he said that one day after writing about MSA politics, his readership numbers skyrocketed.

“So I thought maybe I should write about more MSA stuff,” he said.

Another MSA blogger, Monster’s Ball, gathers information from candidates using an AOL Instant Messenger account. A University student by day and blogger by night, the anonymous blogger said candidates wouldn’t offer the same insider information if Monster’s Ball’s identity were revealed.

Monster’s Ball said the blog offers objective election news, not tabloidstyle rumors.

“I don’t have a huge stake in who’s elected, and I don’t have an agenda,” Monster’s Ball said.

Monster’s Ball said the blog serves a watchdog role, holding campaigns to a high standard.

“It’s good for keeping campaigns honest in every aspect, so we have healthy debates,” Monster’s Ball said.

Some blogs serve a news-gatherer role, and others offer opinions, said Nora Paul, the journalism school’s Institute for New Media Studies director.

“The real challenge with blogging is to be very clear about the objective of the blogger,” she said. “One (type) will be more of a service, and one will be more of an advocacy role.”

Solem said his blog serves as an editorial page, while Monster’s Ball sticks to news.

Amy Jo Pierce, MSA vice president and presidential candidate, who has been accused of being Monster’s Ball, said she is an amused reader of the blogs but thinks both bloggers have an agenda.

“(Monster’s Ball) is somewhat objective, but you can tell there’s one campaign he supports,” said Pierce, who said she “definitely” knows the blogger’s identity.

Blogging impact

Blogger and presidential candidate Brian Edstrom said he hopes technology increases voter awareness about MSA. This position is ironic, he said, because he’s trying to end MSA.

“It’s kind of an unusual position to have,” Edstrom said. “I want to get people to care about destroying MSA.”

Edstrom said “blogging’s awesome,” because blogs offer “another venue for free speech.”

But Pierce said blogs can sometimes offer information of questionable credibility.

“Students should vote on the issues, not just based on gossip,” she said.

Solem said he tries to verify everything before he writes it. All media, whether mainstream or alternative, can be biased, he said.

“The free market’s going to correct it,” he said. “If a blog is bad and it spouts lies and attacks, no one’s going to read it.”

For now, candidates said, the blogs are only for a few interested students.

University computer science student Thomas Burt said he has no idea what MSA is and doesn’t plan on voting. But he said he’s pleased with the desktop publishing trend, though “face-to-face (campaigning) will always be better.”

Interest levels could change with time, Solem said. He said that both his and Monster’s Ball’s blogs received more than 115 visitors Wednesday, new records for both sites.

Thefacebook.com revolution

The popular online networking tool thefacebook.com is also changing the way campaigns operate, candidates said.

Candidates are using the Web site to mobilize grassroots support ahead of the April 13 and 14 elections. Each campaign’s thefacebook.com site features a link to the All-Campus Elections Commission, where students can help candidates get on the ballot. The sites also link with campaign Web sites and offer messaging services for group members.

Thefacebook.com might revolutionize campaigns, Solem said. But he said it’s an unproven tool.

“Thefacebook is ultimately like a lawn sign in a political campaign,” he said. “Lawn signs don’t vote and neither does membership in a facebook group.”

Presidential candidate Kristen Denzer said thefacebook.com is a tangible way for campaigns to reach a broad audience. MSA is an exclusive clique, and technology can break down those barriers, she said.

“We want to raise awareness,” she said. “If it wasn’t for the Internet, nobody would have known who we are until a week before the campaign.”

As one of the largest thefacebook.com groups on campus, with more than 5,000 members, The Gopher Web allows all candidates to post information on its Web site.

Site founder Mark Kimitch, a journalism senior, said his site is unbiased.

“I’m just trying to get MSA’s name out there,” he said.

At the local level, tools such as thefacebook.com are great ways to stir enthusiasm, Paul said.

“The potential is transferring that enthusiasm from blog space to face-to-face,” she said.

Election rules

The All-Campus Elections Commission, which oversees the MSA presidential election, has few rules governing technology use in campaigns.

The elections commission considers technology-related complaints on a case-by-case basis, co-commissioner Adam Engelman said.

“It’s hard to regulate every single technological advance,” he said. “We’re trying to think of new general rules Ö rather than creating dozens of new ones.”