President Obama headed west Wednesday to gather funds to help keep his job. While his private fundraising events in the San Francisco Bay area ring up the cash, his time spent at Facebook -- jacking his political agenda into a social network of several hundred million people, each with an average of 130 friends to potentially pass along the Obama word -- will have a major impact on voter preference as the 2012 election gets into gear.
Google's search and YouTube dominate in their categories, but Facebook's domination in the social networking world makes it the most powerful digital player in the political arena, with an active audience and potential influence far beyond other media.
Similarly, Twitter, streaming more than 60 million 140-character-or-less messages a day via its social network, provides an effective outlet for campaigners. Mr. Obama has more than 7.4 million "followers" tuning into his tweets. Like Facebook, Twitter generates an information distribution wave that increases the value of each message as they are "liked" or "retweeted."
For Mr. Obama and his 2012 opponent (or opponents), harnessing Facebook's social graph -- the network of connections and relationships between people on the service -- is even more a core part of the campaign strategy than in the previous presidential election. Facebook has grown from 200 million active users when Mr. Obama took office to an estimated 600 million worldwide at the beginning of 2011. Facebook states that its members spend and aggregate 700 billion minutes a month on the service, and 50 percent of its members are active on the social network on any given day.
For Mr. Obama, it doesn't hurt that Facebook's CEO Mark Zuckerberg and COO Sheryl Sandberg, who are hosting the event, are probably among the more than 19,356,171 million Facebookers as of Wednesday afternoon who "liked" the president on his Facebook page.
Sandberg is a member of the President's Council on Jobs and Competitiveness, and was a major donor to Obama's campaign in the last presidential election. Zuckerberg had dinner with Obama and other Silicon Valley leaders in February.
With its newfound political clout, Facebook will have to fashion a level playing field for its political events, unless it wants to be viewed as tipping the scales toward a particular outcome favored by Facebook's management. The company is gaining more notice among politicians in Washington, D.C., who are concerned about its privacy and censorship policies, and has hired staff and lobbyists to represent Facebook's corporate interests in the nation's capitol.
Andrew Noyes, manager of public policy communications at Facebook, said that the company is not averse to "non-fundraising visits to Facebook headquarters by political candidates, elected and government officials." Past political figures given the Facebook treatment include former President George W. Bush, New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg, Sen. John Cornyn,R-Texas, Sen. John Kerry, D-Mass., and former British Prime Minister Tony Blair.
CNET: Obama heads to Facebook for town hall