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All Things Considered

Politicians Have To Claim Their Digital Real Estate Before Others Take It


It was only days after Shawn Jasper won the race for State House Speaker that Twitter had a new user: @SpeakerJasper. There was only one catch: the Twitter user Speaker Jasper wasn’t the actual Speaker Jasper. (The official Twitter account used by the last few speakers, including Jasper, is @NHSpeaker.)

This a growing trend in politics - friends or opponents of a political figure using website domain names or Twitter and Facebook profiles to weigh in on that figure. Allie Morris reported on the phenomenon for the Concord Monitor. She joined All Things Considered to talk about it.

We don’t know who’s behind this Twitter account yet, do we?

No. It's much harder to figure out who's behind Facebook pages or Twitter handles that crop up. But what we can find out is who's behind website domains. Shawn Jasper also alerted members of the House of Representatives that he had some other domains pop up - shawnjasper.com, .net, .org... none of which were his.

In this case it was fellow Republican representative J.R. Hoell of Dunbarton. He'd actually bought the domain names back in June,  far before the speaker's election. He's been buying these domain names for several years now. He sees it as a political investment, either to protect his friends, get their domains, or to get some that he might want to control the messaging for.

Where do they lead?

In this specific case they lead to a conservative blog, Granite Grok, that has some articles about Jasper - not so friendly. Those have been leading there since August.

Maybe the most high profile recent example of this was with former New York mayor Mike Bloomberg, whose lawyers were buying up domain names that were critical of him – even MikeIsTooShort.nyc. But we’re really now at the point where members of the state house and senate may need to keep up on this?

Definitely. We've seen this coming down to the local level. It's really an important tool for politicians, public figures - we saw Jeb Bush today announce on Facebook and on Twitter that he'll be looking into running for president. So they're really using it to connect with fans or constituents and it's a really important tool in politics.

That can get complicated and pricey - there's .net, .com, .us, .everything...

The domain names, you really have to buy up. Facebook and Twitter are free, so you can get as many as you want, but it can be costly. J.R. Hoell said he spent anywhere from 99 cents to $12.99 for each URL that he bought up.

Aside from politics, why might someone buy up a domain name and hang onto it?

I met someone in my reporting who's all the way down in Baltimore, who's been buying some domain names in the hopes of selling them. He's buying up ones like KellyAyotte2016.com in the hopes that she might be running, might be looking into that domain name, [and] he might be able to make some money by selling it. He got that idea from a friend, who he says bought a Hillary For President Facebook page that got so big that people came after it seeking money. So that could be a business venture for some people.

I feel bad for anyone who's so young that he or she can't set up a Twitter handle or a domain name. What's going to be left for them if they have an even slightly common name five or 10 years down the road?

Exactly. I've seen some articles where people actually register all the social media for their kids when they're born. It could be a new strategy for future politicians.