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Will Obama Feel the Sting of Social Networking?

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Barack Obama may get what he wishes for, 7 months early.

A viral campaign is underway that seeks to enlist people in the my.BarackObama.com group, Senator Obama - Please Vote Against FISA.

Allow me to explain.

A key plank of Barack Obama's candidacy platform has been civic engagement. His plan for creating an open and connected government is one of the most refreshing and detailed elements of his entire campaign.

Some excerpts:

Our nation's progress has been stifled by a system corrupted by millions of lobbying dollars contributed to political campaigns, the revolving door between government and industry, and privileged access to inside information-all of which have led to policies that favor the few against the public interest. An Obama presidency will use cutting-edge technologies to reverse this dynamic, creating a new level of transparency, accountability and participation for America's citizens. Technology-enabled citizen participation has already produced ideas driving Obama's campaign and its vision for how technology can help connect government to its citizens and engage citizens in a democracy. Barack Obama will use the most current technological tools available to make government less beholden to special interest groups and lobbyists and promote citizen participation in government decision-making.

Obama says he will accomplish the goal by, inter alia,

- Giving the American public an opportunity to review and comment on the White House website for five days before signing any non-emergency legislation.

- Bringing democracy and policy deliberations directly to the people by requiring his Cabinet officials to have periodic national online town hall meetings to answer questions and discuss issues before their agencies.

- Employing technologies, including blogs, wikis and social networking tools, to modernize internal, cross-agency, and public communication and information sharing to improve government decision-making.

Indeed, Obama's campaign website, my.barackobama.com, already implements some of the capabilities he describes above. As much a social networking site as it is a campaign site, Obama allows users to create profiles, blog about issues and establish "groups" -- a kind of on-line club of people with common interests.

The technology Obama envisions for the country may not work the same way it has worked on his campaign website. Members of MyBarackObama.com are, as should be expected, overwhelmingly supportive. In browsing current user-created Groups, I didn't find a single one that wasn't supportive of the candidate. Of course, Obama will not have that luxury when it is time for him to govern the entire country. There will surely be masses of comments and testimonials in support of proposed government policies; the negative commentary will be even more plentiful. (Think about it: when was the last time you were tempted to pick up the phone to tell the government they did something right? People are much more motivated by perceived threats and deficiencies in government than they are by positive developments).

Obama may be about to witness a foreshadowing of his vision.

Yesterday, my.BarackObama.com member "Mardi" created the group "Senator Obama - Please Vote Against FISA Membership".

The Netroots anger over Obama's reversal on FISA (he had promised to support the filibuster any bill that contained "retroactive immunity" for telecom companies; last week he disavowed the pledge) is palpable.

Right now, the most active group on My.BarackObama.com has just over 13,000 members; the new group could easily reach that size before the Senate returns from their 4th of July recess. It would be easy to do. When I woke up this morning, I did not have a my.BarackObama.com account. Someone sent me the link to the group and in less than 60 seconds, I not only had an account at my.BarackObama.com, but I had also joined the anti-FISA group.

The really cool thing about all of this technology? It is exactly what Barack Obama wants to see happen; it comports perfectly with his vision of an engaged electorate. Over and over again on the campaign trail, Obama has talked about what YOU have done. He aspires to represent "we, the people" and consistently disparages the old system of lobbyist-fueled special interest politics.

So...

If you want to be the change you desire, take a few seconds, visit this group and sign up. It'll provide Barack Obama with an unprecedented opportunity to lead by listening to the people.