Palin's Facebook Fakeout

Slate's analysis finds that Sarah nixes unflattering comments from the public. So much for straight talk...

Here's an online experiment worth trying:
Step 1: Post a link to this story in a comments thread on Sarah Palin's Facebook page.
Step 2: See how long it takes for your entry to disappear.

An analysis by Slate magazine found that about 10 percent of the comments posted to Palin's Facebook site were deleted – the latest evidence that Mama Grizzly isn’t afraid to use her claws when it comes to protecting her image.

Palin's determination to control her message extends to taking the "social" out of social media – trying to use online tools meant to foster conversation as a reputation-buffing, one-way megaphone.

Slate came up with a computer program that captured 12 days worth of comments, and tracked the ones that were deleted. The Palin camp’s screening effort must be a fairly labor-intensive affair, considering her posts generate hundreds and sometimes thousands of responses.

We can understand Palin's people outright nixing ethnic and racial hate spewed by losers. But the delete key, Slate found, was regularly exercised on critical comments, whether nasty (“I do not like you or agree with any dumb thing you say or do”) or perfectly civil ("Sarah, perception is everything! I learned that in the military. All you have to do is disassociate yourself from those Tea Partiers that are indeed racist and the NAACP gones [sic] away"). 

Comments disagreeing with her decisions to back certain candidates and notes even remotely negative about her family ("please dont let your daughter do a reality show :( but i love your family and you ..hope thats just a rumor from the liberals") also were tossed onto the virtual scrap heap, Slate reported.

Perhaps more telling, comments that reflected Birther-like anti-Obama conspiracy theories and other nonsense far beyond the GOP mainstream got zapped – suggesting Palin’s not only trying to control her message, but the perception of the kinds of supporters she attracts.

Slate also found that President Obama's Facebook page was scrubbed of less than one percent of comments, which is less than one percent too many, especially when the deletions include notes like “YOU, Mr Obama are spending too much!"

The president, by virtue of his job, gets questioned regularly, through his press operation and in person (even if that sometimes involves being lobbed softballs on "The View").

Palin, meanwhile, largely has steered clear of journalists and tough questioning as she runs her all-but-declared 2012 presidential campaign via the Internet, speeches to friendly crowds and Fox News, where she is an employee.

But all hasn’t been perfect in Palinland as of late. Fox News host Bill O'Reilly pressed Palin for details on her immigration reform plan last month, his aggressive questioning apparently catching her off guard.

Palin was roundly mocked, perhaps too much, for her recent "refudiate" Twitter neologism, which she offered in a sloppy tweet opposing plans for an Islamic cultural center and mosque near Ground Zero. And she got a taste of Facebook censorship herself last month when her post on the mosque issue was deleted after site users, in an apparently concerted campaign, reported her note contained "racist/hate speech."

Her statement, as it should have been, was reposted – which is more than you can say for the deleted comments we wouldn’t have known about, if not for Slate.

Facebook is an extremely powerful platform with a half-billion users – among them, more than two million fans of Palin’s page. But even some of Palin’s backers, who see her as a truth teller who listens to and speaks for the average person, might be disappointed to find out they’ve been victims of her Facebook fakeout.

Hester is founding director of the award-winning, multi-media NYCity News Service at the City University of New York Graduate School of Journalism. He is the former City Editor of the New York Daily News, where he started as a reporter in 1992. Follow him on Twitter.

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