Political candidates vying for your vote have turned to the Internet to spread their message. But some of the Web sites that highlight their names are less than flattering.
One example is a new site that mirrors that of prospective Senate candidate Rudolph Giuliani. It imparts fervent anti-Rudy sentiments, and CBS News This Morning Co-Anchor Thalia Assuras spoke to George Washington University Professor Michael Cornfield to get the lowdown on this high-tech trickery.
The World Wide Web is beleaguered by questions of authenticity. Most recently, celebrities have cast doubt on the legality of juxtaposing their famous faces on strangersÂ' bare bodies. The InternetÂ's political landscape seems to have followed suit.
These "copycat Web sites" look identical to real political sites, but their agendas are quite different. And Cornfield says theyÂ're permissible.
"They're as legal as The Blair Witch Project, which also pretends to be something it isn't," he says. "It's a parody. It's part of the discussion that goes on before an election. There's nothing wrong with them. The key is finding out which is real and which is fake."
Cornfield says one way of determining a fraudulent Web site is to scroll down to the home pageÂ's credit line.
"It's the disclosure line," says Cornfield. "If you go to the bottom of the home page, and somebody says they are representing Rudy Giuliani and they're not, that's fraud. If they say, 'We're RTM Mark,' which is the sponsor of the mock Giuliani site and also the mock George Bush site, that's fair."
The general purpose of such sites vary. Some serve to make a mockery of politicians, while others address the issues surrounding campaigns. In either case, these pseudo-sites have left some politicians gnashing their teeth, and Cornfield says the impact can't be determined yet.
"We don't know if they can be harmful or not, because we haven't had any elections where there was a straw poll," he says. "We'll try to get evidence as to whether or not citizens are confused or whether it makes a differenceÂ…my suspicion is it has no effect on anyone except the campaigns themselves, to which it is an irritant."
Nevertheless, Cornfield says they are a necessary evil in a political climate where real information is as pervasive as propaganda: "In a democracy, if we're going to make an informed choice, we have to hear what's bad about candidates and not just what candidates tell us."