A Virtual Space for Young Voters

The social networking site MySpace.com has created a new area called "Impact" that features the profiles of more than a dozen presidential aspirants. Mario Armstrong talks to Farai Chideya about how Web sites like YouTube and MySpace are helping candidates get their message out.

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FARAI CHIDEYA, host:

Moving to the world of technology, if you have a MySpace account, you can totally add P. Diddy, Halle Berry and Barack Obama as online friends. The Illinois senator is just one of the presidential candidates has joined a new election link on MySpace called Impact. I spoke with our tech contributor, Mario Armstrong, about how a site better known for music and dating stays involve in politics.

MARIO ARMSTRONG: MySpace.com, if you go to their politics and government section, you'll see well over 33,000 news groups or forums that are listed under politics and government. And you'll see specific Web pages for MySpace Democrats, MySpace Republicans. Looking at this user-generated video culture that we live in and being able to simply post-up - that means to send off files of videos or files of audio to the Web - to these very popular sites. It's so easy to do with existing technology. It makes absolute sense that politicians would engage those types of communities to reach out to them. Plus the numbers are huge. I mean, you're talking about several million people using these sites. But the big kicker this year is places like YouTube and AOL's UnCut -being able to really now move from MySpace, which traditionally was just text and photos, now really pushing the whole video element of it.

CHIDEYA: You know, along those lines, there's going to be a mock election -it's still a ways off, January 1st and 2nd - for all MySpace users to vote on who they want as president. Now, of course, these are unscientific polls, essentially, but they've announced this way, way, way in advance. They're making a big deal of it. Is it a big deal?

ARMSTRONG: This is a big deal. You're at a time now where we can look at Don Imus, you can look at other things that happen. The minute something takes place, it's virtually recorded these days. And so the Internet can fuel the fire really quickly. This is a relevant platform. It's an opportunity for politicians to not only get their message out, but maybe even more importantly to be proactive or reactive to other messages that are coming out in traditional media that they can't fight.

And so, this somewhat levels the playing field for people, but at the same time, you're looking at, you know, YouTube and AOLUnCut and all these other online sharing video sites that - where is the level of authenticity? How can you - it's so easy to misrepresent the truth. You have people dressing up like Barack. You have - Obama - you have people dressing up like Rudy Giuliani and doing all these skits and things.

But it's - I can see that it can be easily confusing to some people and quite messy to others.

CHIDEYA: So finally, what about demographics? I mean, MySpace definitely has a younger profile, although there are people who are, you know, older who use it as well. I mean, I personally - I missed it, you know. I missed that whole MySpace thing. I don't use it. But is this…

ARMSTRONG: You're so savvy, Farai. You missed it?

CHIDEYA: Well, it's more of a touch-and-feel thing, you know. I'm still the kind of person who's willing to go on text-only message boards, and I don't feel like I need like, you know, five million graphics. I mean, you know.

ARMSTRONG: Wow, man. You're a true geek.

CHIDEYA: I am. I am. So…

ARMSTRONG: Good to hear.

CHIDEYA: But the thing is, when you look at MySpace and you look at it interacting with politics - is this really a way to reach the niche demographics - whether it's a younger demographic, an urban demographic, demographic of color - or is this really a widespread, cross-age, cross-race thing?

ARMSTRONG: That's a great question. I think there's an opportunity to do both. If you have your ads - well, not ads, necessarily, messages, your videos - if you're a politician and you have these videos up, obviously, they can be seen by the whole YouTube culture or the whole MySpace culture. But you can also -depending on what's in there, how it's tagged, how people can search upon it, or if you decide to place it into other categories of interest that may focus on those niche groups, then you can certainly kind of target your messaging to specific communities of interest.

YouTube has just launched a whole spotlight on candidates, and this particular candidate gets homepage exposure. I mean, it's huge exposure. And so right now, who's on there is Governor Mitt Romney, and I can see how many subscribers he has to his site, how many channel views. I can even find out his interests and hobbies, what his favorite music is, what his favorite books are. So this is another way of me being able to become more closer to the politicians that we may be supporting or want to know more information about.

CHIDEYA: Mario Armstrong is NEWS & NOTES tech contributor. He also covers technology for Baltimore member stations WYPR and WEAA.

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