There was a story in the NYTimes last week that took me back a few years, about the political candidates who have become good at cyber squatting their opponents’ Web domains. The practice isn’t new, indeed the Times published a story back fifteen years ago by James Gleick about the tactic and quoted from Brooks Talley and how he owned several domains such as Dole96.org, when the “real” Bob Dole web site was something else entirely, where thanks to the Internet Archive, you can view the site here.
Apart from the obvious lack of historical context, there was something else missing from the Times’ piece: that finding the “real” Tea Party Web site is next to impossible. It isn’t just cybersquatters (one of whom that ranks high in Google juice this week is selling a male enhancement drug, which brings up all sorts of amusing quips that I will restrain myself from making), but the very decentralized nature of the Tea Party itself.
Now, I am not taking a position about supporting or not supporting them. Clearly, a lot of voters are interested in their candidates, given the results of the past week’s primary elections. But let’s say for the sake of argument that you want to give a Tea Party candidate a campaign donation, or want to volunteer to work for one of their local candidates. You will quickly find out that you can’t do either of these activities with confidence. Unlike the well established other parties that have carefully crafted sites, the Tea Party folks are a cyber-mess.
Just Googling “official Tea Party web site” won’t get you anywhere, and indeed, some of the listings on the first couple of pages are somewhat hard to pin down without further research into who owns the domain. There is the Tea Party Patriots, which is the work of Mark Meckler. He has a Ning group as well as a regular Web site that asks people to donate $10 a month and be part of the first 10,000 to do so. That seems suspicious. There is another site called Tea Party Patriots Live that is owned by Jason Hoyt. This one looks more legit, but again, who knows?
Then there is the Tea Party Express, which is part of a political action committee called Our Country Deserves Better that has its own separate Web site. Another PAC is called Stop This Insanity that has a domain JoinTheTeaParty.us.
Going to Facebook, there are a few pages that are devoted to Tea Party causes, but again, hard to say with any certainly which is the authoritative one. And Wikipedia doesn’t offer any links to clarify what is the official site either.
I realize that the very grass-roots nature of the Tea Party makes it hard to have a definitive central site, but still. There are a lot of other grass roots movements that have done a better job branding themselves online. Of course, even the best branding doesn’t guarantee complete name recognition: I doubt many of us could name the chairman of both the GOP and Democratic National Committees. Still, at least you can be reasonably sure that when you go to their Web sites, you are at the real McCoys.