A political campaign’s digital operation is becoming ever more-important to campaign success. However, the Internet remains the wild, wild, west, where unscrupulous opponents and scammers try to take advantage of every opportunity to mislead.
Nowhere is this more apparent than in the proliferation of “cybersquatting” web sites that register dozens of web addresses related to an opponent or interest group. Unsuspecting web surfers assume a site belongs to a candidate, party, or campaign committee, but when they click on the address they get negative information about the candidate, or pitches to buy a completely unrelated product.
Cybersquatting has become a political tactic used by many unscrupulous businesses, candidates and interest groups.
But help is coming. Monolith Registry is promoting a new top-level domain, dotVOTE (.VOTE) and its Spanish/Italian/Portugueseequivalent, dotVOTE (.VOTO), with safeguards to prevent political cybersquatting.
Chuck Warren, Monolith Registry’s management member and a political consultant with Utah ties, said candidates and committees that adopt .VOTE domains will find a safe and respectful environment for voter interaction without having to worry about cybersquatting.
Warren pointed out a Business Insiderstory about two men who were unconnected to Jeb Bush, purchased the web address www.JebBushForPresident.comand plan to use the site "as a platform to educate our friends and family about political impact to LGBT families," which obviously isn’t what the domain name implies.
Thousands of cybersquatting examples exist in campaign politics. In Philadelphia, a political action committee purchased 10 domains using names of city council members and mayoral candidates. Someone who clicks on one of those addresses won’t get what they expected.
Often, political opponents will buy up all possible web addresses related to their opponents and post negative information on the sites. For example, Some Republicans set up dummy websites that appeared to be owned by Democratic candidates, but actually asked for donations to the Republicans.
Warren said that won’t be possible with a .VOTE domain. The new domain promises authentic Internet addresses that ensure domain names “are only used by legitimate political candidates, political parties, referendums, ballot initiative campaigns and other political participants.”
So how will they do that? No one will be able to anonymously secure a .VOTE domain. “Also, they must abide by registration policies,” said Warren. “We will ask for details. We’ll check on campaigns. We’ll do regular audits. If someone abuses the system, they’ll lose their web address.” No deceptive or disparaging names will be registered.
Using the .VOTE domain obviously won’t prevent an opponent or opportunist from using another domain name, like .COM, to mislead, but if a candidate or committee uses the .VOTE domain in all campaign literature, press releases, paid media and social media, the correct web address will become the default address, resulting in less confusion. Warren hopes the .VOTE domain will become the web extension of choice for candidates, PACs, parties and voter initiatives.
Eligible trademark holders can register .VOTE and .VOTO names immediately. On Feb. 17, registration will be open to the public.