Wednesday, August 26, 2009

What is the worth of a “friendship” on Facebook with a political person?

I am now “friends” with Pat Quinn.

Yes, that Pat Quinn. The guy who gets to call himself governor of Illinois for just over one more year (five more, if he's lucky).

NOW I DON’T mean to use the word “friends” in its true meaning. While I have known of Quinn and first met him nearly two decades ago, our true relationship is one of reporter-type person/political-type person (even though I’m sure there’s a part of him that would detest being lumped in with political people).

But when I woke up Tuesday morning and booted up the laptop to check on a couple of things, I noticed in my e-mail a request from Quinn to be my “friend” on Facebook.

Since I am of the type who is willing to be a Facebook “friend” with just about anybody, I accepted. So now I can read the personal details that Quinn has put up about himself (most of which are rather generic biographical details – no good “dirt” here).

I can also see that Quinn mostly uses his Facebook page to give people a chance to post comments about him and questions to him. My favorite is the from the man who wants the governor of Illinois to crack down on all the perverts who use public computers at the Harold Washington Library to view pornographic pictures and video snippets.

I GUESS IT never occurred to someone to complain to library officials. Go to the governor!

I shouldn’t mock this person so much. After all, he’s merely using the page for what Quinn wants him to – to feel like he has a direct contact, and Quinn as of Tuesday had 1,417 “friends” (22 of whom are also among my Facebook “friends”).

But can one seriously envision Quinn being among those people who use their every spare moment of time (and a lot of time they really don’t have to spare) playing those ridiculous games like “Mob Wars!” or taking the survey to figure out which Chicago street best (I’m “Avenue O”) fits their personality?

Everybody has their own use for a Facebook page.

PERSONALLY, THE REASON I use it is to provide yet another way for people to read the commentaries I write and publish at the Chicago Argus. It’s self-promotion, and if people want to use my page to send me comments about how moronic my commentary is (rather than post a comment on the weblog itself or send me an e-mail at the address published on this weblot), then so be it.

A part of me wants to be read, and I’m using this fad (who’s to say if anyone will pay attention to Facebook five years from now?) to make it easier to be read.

Quinn and other political people who use Facebook to promote themselves are doing the same thing. Only instead of wanting more people reading my weblog, they want more people to vote for them on future Election Days.

So yes, I realize just how pompous it is to make the statement that led off this commentary. It sounds like I’m claiming a personal relationship with the governor, which really has nothing to do with it.

IN FACT, I took a look at the list of Facebook “friends” I have managed to compile in a rather haphazard manner. Some are political operatives, while others are reporter-types who I once worked with or against but haven’t seen in years. A few are old school “chums,” while a few are people who for whatever reason picked me out at random as a Facebook “friend,” and I accepted.

But it turns out that seven of my “friends” are elected government officials, and one is a former elected official (one-time state Rep. Bill Edley, D-Canton).

Aside from Quinn, I can claim Facebook “friendship” with Illinois Comptroller Dan Hynes, state Reps. Dan Rutherford, R-Pontiac, and Sara Feigenholtz, D-Chicago, state Sens. Bill Brady, R-Bloomington, John E. Bradley, D-Marion, and Jeff Schoenberg, D-Evanston.

Not that I’m claiming to be overly close to any of them.

BUT IT CAN be useful to figure out what a political person is up to by reading the snippets about themselves that they are willing to post publicly.

And if they are willing to let me read what is up, I will take advantage of it.

Yet the degree to which these officials use Facebook is interesting. I can’t remember the last time I heard anything from Bradley, yet Brady now makes daily appearances in my e-mail.

His every campaign stunt winds up in my box. Hynes is running for the same office on the Democratic Party side of the election, yet I can’t say he’s been anywhere near as active on Facebook. (Of course, getting the endorsements of several organized labor groups and having strong financial support means he doesn’t have to do as much).

BY COMPARISON, BRADY is one of the six Republicans who has dreams of becoming governor, so he has every motivation to get his name out there – since the GOP field is one that is largely unknown to the general public.

Only the most hard-core of political geeks who specializes in Democratic criticism would be able to claim in honesty that he/she knows who all six are in any detail (most of what I know about Brady is that we both attended Illinois Wesleyan University, although he was there a few years ahead of me).

But it could be intriguing if Brady’s heavy use of Facebook helped get his name out to his 1,490 “friends”, who spread his name about to their “friends” – and maybe even to their real-life friends as well.


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