Obama's Facebook Campaign

"Now every political candidate has a Facebook page, so not only are we able to connect like that, but...taking it to a website and starting a grassroots [effort] from Facebook works well." (CBS News.com)

After speaking at a Democratic National Committee meeting in Washington, D.C., on Friday, Sen. Barack Obama, D–Ill., crossed the Potomac River to address a crowd of young supporters at George Mason University. From Obama's entrance music — "Waiting on the World to Change" — to the signs waved by the audience, the event felt like the work of professionals. But for the most part, planners of the "Yes We Can" rally, Students For Barack Obama, cannot drink legally, and if they didn't vote in 2004, it was likely because they were just shy of 18 years old. The organization started as a group on Facebook, the social networking Web site that has emerged as a staple of college life and has become a key tool for a new generation of politically-engaged students. Founded as "Barack Obama for President in 2008" by 20-year-old Meredith Segal, the group has grown to include field operations and communications and finance directors, among others. Segal, now the group's executive director, said Students For Barack Obama has grown far beyond what many people would expect for an organization run by college students. "There are a lot of kids out there who don't connect with politics, but care about this country and care about our future," she said. The experience has been a crash course in political campaigning for Segal, a junior at Bowdoin College, a small liberal arts school in Maine. "In the past two months I've learned everything, from how to work with a union print shop to order a banner, to how to get a sound system working for an event," she said. Segal doesn't appear driven by a desire to pad her resume — she is majoring in neuroscience and education and plans to work in those fields after completing her education. Instead, she said, she was compelled to act after becoming familiar with Obama, whose keynote address to the 2004 Democratic National Convention "excited and inspired" her. Tobin Van Ostern, Segal's deputy, has handled Web design for other political groups, but said the success of Students For Barack Obama has amazed him in its growth from a Facebook group into a "real-world grassroots organization." Vas Ostern, an 18-year-old freshman at George Washington University in Washington, D.C., said Facebook is a potent tool not just for the campaigns, but for anyone who wants to support their favored candidate. "Now every political candidate has a Facebook page, so not only are we able to connect like that, but also this idea of taking it to a Web site and starting a grassroots [effort] from Facebook works well," he said. Obama is one of many candidates with a presence on social networking Web sites. All the major presidential hopefuls, including Sen. Hillary Clinton, D-N.Y., Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., former Sen. John Edwards, D-N.C., Gov. Bill Richardson, D-N.M., and Republican Rudy Giuliani, the former mayor of New York, have groups supporting them on Facebook and MySpace. Of course, sites populated by college students are not without a sense of humor. Other "candidates" with groups of supporters include Kermit the Frog, Borat, Oprah Winfrey, Jon Stewart and David Palmer, the president from Fox's "24" who is not only fictional, but also was killed off last year. There are more than 100 Facebook groups supporting Obama's candidacy, and the group that spawned Students For Barack Obama now has over 56,000 members. It is not the most populated group supporting Obama, but works closely with the largest, "One Million Strong For Barack." That group was started by Farouk Olu Aregbe, a 2005 graduate of the University of North Dakota. Aregbe said his group has grown faster than any other in Facebook's three-year history. Over 220,000 members joined between Jan. 16, when the group started, and Feb. 5.

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