SANTA MONICA, Calif. -- Joe Anthony, at the center of a raging debate over the role of netroots volunteers in Barack Obama's presidential bid, said Sunday his once ardent support for him is shaken as a result of the Obama campaign taking over the Obama MySpace page Anthony created.
"I am not as staunch a supporter like I was in the beginning," he told me.
Anthony is the 29-year-old Los Angeles paralegal who in November 2004 launched an Obama page on MySpace, the social networking site, attracting 160,000 "friends." Last Wednesday, the Obama campaign, wanting total control of the page, shut him down, replacing his content with official information from the campaign and leaving in the wake a dispute over whether Anthony was fairly treated.
A passionate discussion about the Anthony controversy on the official Obama campaign blog -- 400 comments Sunday as I write this -- is drawing more reaction than any other blog entry on www.barackobama.com, a sign that the episode touched a raw nerve in a campaign that is emphasizing new media and encouraging supporters to organize on their own.
Obama New Media Director Joe Rospars posted the blog entry. At 7:35 p.m. Saturday, Anthony posted a pointed rebuttal to Rospars at http://myspace.com/skyscraper nationalpark.
The 2008 presidential campaign marks the first time candidates are making extensive use of newly evolving Internet tools. Anthony's clash with the Obama campaign is a first -- a mainstream campaign trying to harness the political organizing potential of Internet networking while wanting to control an independent (but friendly) page drawing a tremendous number of followers.
"I'm stressed," Anthony told me when we talked. Though I was a few miles away, he did not want to meet in person, so I interviewed him over the phone. He was sparse with biographical details, a little freaked, I surmised, from being thrust into the spotlight as the first netroots activist to battle a campaign he thought he was helping.
The Ohio native studied classical guitar and was a music major in college. "I have no background in politics other than this page," he said. He simply wanted to change the world.
Obama himself called Anthony on Wednesday night --"out of the blue," he said. Anthony said Obama, in the few minutes they talked, told him there were "lessons to be learned by everybody" over the MySpace standoff, but Obama told him "he stands by his staff."
Anthony took the Obama call as well meaning but a move to "guilt me into backing down."
Obama campaign spokesman Bill Burton said, "We're up to about 45,000 friends on our MySpace page and we look forward to building our successful relationship with members of that community."
The relationship with Anthony is still raw. Posted Anthony, "Regardless of the campaign's intentions, the campaign quashed not only my right to have this profile, but the very hope that inspired me to build it.''