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Face-Value Politics: Can You Judge a Candidate By Their Facebook?

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One of Gil Cedillo's campaign mailers depicting Pleitez as a "Party Animal"

One of Gil Cedillo's campaign mailers depicting Pleitez as a "Party Animal"
Young politicians have an awful lot of social networking and "new media" at their disposal to make reaching out to their potential constituents a lot faster and easier. Like many people in their 20s, Emanuel Pleitez, who recently challenged veteran politico Gil Cedillo for the 32nd Congressional District seat vacated by US Labor Secretary Hilda Solis, made use of his personal Facebook profile to share news items and images with his "friends."But his opponent, Cedillo, proved that things can get pretty unfriendly in the Facebook era, when he made use of some pictures on Pleitez's profile in a smear campaign against his challenger, according to the LA Times. Cedillo, who wound up losing the race with Pleitez to Judy Chu, "used photos from Pleitez's Facebook page in attack mailers intended to undercut the candidate's clean-cut image."

In one mailer sent out by Cedillo, an image of nicely-dressed young people, including Pleitez, mugging for the camera, was accompanied by this caption, in English and Spanish: "Should this man represent you in the House of Representatives or in 'Animal House'?" Some of the images were from an event held during a Stanford semester abroad trip, and the "party animals" labeled by the Cedillo campaign actually young people who are now in graduate school working on law degrees or PhDs, or working as "teachers, nurses, directors of nonprofit groups," and the like.

The Cedillo campaign also pointed out the frequent posing of Pleitez and his friends making "gang signs,"--you know, two fingers raised in a "V" for peace, or as "the symbol of Voto Latino, a national voter outreach program." One such gangster depicted, but likely not recognized by the Cedillo camp, is actress Rosario Dawson.

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So were Pleitez's Facebook photos a liability? Some voters may have been scared off, but many young voters were horrified by Cedillo's tactics, not Pleitez's pictures. However "Cedillo saw nothing wrong with ads 'intended to show voters that Mr. Pleitez lacks not only the experience to be a member of Congress, but also the maturity,'" explained the campaign.

Considering Cedillo's approach in the Facebook era, the question of "maturity" might well rest in the other camp.