ABC News today announced that it has partnered with Facebook to create an interactive political forum on the social networking site that will allow members to take part in debate groups, keep tabs on the work of ABC’s campaign reporters, and register their support for candidates.
The ABC News arrangement is not the first attempt to bring politics to the Web 2.0 arena. In July, YouTube and CNN hosted a Democratic debate where presidential candidates fielded questions submitted by YouTube users. On Wednesday, CNN will broadcast a similar debate for Republican candidates.
MySpace has teamed with MTV to roll out the “Presidential Dialogues” series, promising a more authentic debate than the more staid Tim Russert/Jim Lehrer-style of moderated format by answering users’ questions in real time. The next dialogue will be December 3, featuring Republican hopeful John McCain.
Now enter Facebook. Its “U.S. Politics” group is the site’s first formal partnership with a news organization.
The ABC News reporters embedded with the campaign of the various candidates will post blogs, photographs and news articles in an attempt to engage the Facebook set with ABC’s political coverage. Facebook users will be able to follow the reporters’ movements and send them personal messages, a utility that goes a step beyond the efforts other news organizations have made to turn their reporters into recognizable brands.
Using the Debate Groups tool, Facebook users can cast their votes on many of the issues that are shaping the dialogue of the election.
No doubt there is potential for this feature to become something more significant than just a next-gen town hall meeting. Campaign strategists might be interested to know that 53 percent of Facebook users participating in the survey think that same-sex unions should have the same legal status as marriages between a man and a woman.
The Election Pulse tool helps put these numbers into context with the raw numbers about where Facebook users stand on the candidates. Illinois Senator Barrck Obama has more than three times as many Facebook supporters as his nearest Democratic rival, New York Senator Hillary Clinton. On the Republican side, Texas Congressman Ron Paul has nearly twice as many supporters as former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney, the next-closest Republican.
The collaboration between an established news organization and the hottest ticket on the Internet might seem a natural and shrewd move, particularly as the former struggles with new ways to package its content to a younger audience that has greeted the social networking phenomenon with a resounding embrace.
One poster commenting on the ABC News Web site under the handle “FGCU07” praised the agreement since “the next generation of news watchers, so to speak, will be the Facebook/MySpace generation (myself included). ABC is being proactive and wise in is wooing of youngster[s] by way of Facebook’s hip site.”
Others are more cynical, such as the user with the handle “ceengeel1,” who posted this comment on the ABC News site on Monday afternoon:
“Clever. The blatant ABC spin will now be a more pervasive force amongst poorly informed young voters who like to feel as if they’ve got the information to hold authoritative opinions without the effort of moving past what they see on Facebook to do some real research. I’m not sure if I’m more disgusted by the social apathy that allows this situation or the media moving in to take advantage of it.”
Whether Facebook’s U.S. Politics group lands in the slush pile of half-baked political polls or emerges as the coveted new insight into the minds of the social-networking generation remains to be seen. What is clear is that Facebook, already an established forum for communicating and advertising, is now looking to move further in from the fringes by entering the political arena arm in arm with a big-league news organization.