Negative campaigning has seized the 1996 presidential race just as it has in election years past: radio and TV attack ads; finger-pointing press releases; downright nasty debates. Mud, figuratively speaking, is everywhere.
Everywhere except the Internet. Bob Dole hasn't once accused Steve Forbes of flaming him (a cyberattack) via E-mail. Lamar Alexander hasn't launched an on-line campaign against Pat Buchanan. In terms of netiquette, this is one clean campaign, save a few jabs on the official candidate home-page sites of the World Wide Web.
That's no surprise, say computer junkies. Cybercampaigning is a new medium -- one that many of the 1996 contenders never used before this year. They're getting up to speed, though. Alexander announced his candidacy on-line and Buchanan's low-budget campaign relies heavily upon volunteers known as the "Internet Brigade" to post information, enter the cyberpolls and spread news.
"Bob Dole's been surfing the Internet for many years," says a sarcastic Mark Pace, a 24-year-old San Francisco systems engineer. "I have a feeling that as the candidates get more involved with the mode of communication, then there will be more mudslinging on it." But, until the other big-time politicians upgrade their personal computers and learn the lingo, they will just have to rely upon conventional mudslinging methods and leave the Internet fun to Pace and others. Pace, a confessed "fed-up political junkie," and his high-school buddy, 26-year-old computer-test developer Brooks Talley, decided to poke some fun at the 1996 presidential hopefuls. Last June, they found former candidate Phil Gramm's Web site. It was so tacky, so uninformative, they recall, that they thought they were looking at a parody.
When they realized it was the real thing, they had an idea. They secured site names such as dole96 and buchanan96, just like the real Gramm page name. They then created Web sites with witty, satirical tidbits about the candidates, chock-full of graphics almost identical to those on the official pages. Their Dole page includes the Dole fruit-company logo and boasts that he is "a ripe man for the job" and founder of the Dole fruit company. Buchanan's site provides "links to fascist organizations," which takes you to the Aryan Nation home page. Forbes' site says his "very name conjures up images of power, wealth and glossy magazines."
They've caught some harsh E-mail from various candidate supporters, complaining that they're stealing art or disrupting democracy with their antics. …