Slate, the Industry Standard, and washingtonpost.com join forces to examine the effect of the Internet on Campaign 2000.
Dan Parisi, who has fought Clinton administration lawyers over his whitehouse.com pornography site, launched a slightly less obscene Web site in June that encourages users to "vent their grievances about Corporate America, American Politics and Politicians." Unlike most online bulletin board sites, Parisi's Sucks.com was created for only one thing—griping.
While other political sites connect like-minded individuals or connect public figures with a mass audience, the Sucks.com site is a hive of negativity. Parisi said he just wanted to create a place where people could go to complain. Think of it as online political graffiti.
The site has been in the works for two years, during which time Parisi has purchased more than 20 politically oriented Web addresses (see the June 13 "Net Election" column) that append the word "sucks" to the name of a candidate or institution. The names run from the broad (governmentsucks.com) to the very specific (hastertsucks.com, gephardtsucks.com).
"I just did it because I wanted an original way that people could talk about government and things like that," said Parisi, who said he would not make any money off the sucks.com site. He said he has already spent about $100,000 on the site. The Sucks.com name alone cost him $10,000 when he bought it in April 1999, he said.
Although candidates have been busy buying up some of their own "sucks" sites—George W. Bush presidential campaign owns georgewbushsucks.com and redirects it to his official campaign page—Parisi says he is not merely a broker of sites that could be used to attack political candidates. The site names are not for sale to any bidder at any price, he said.
Parisi said he would keep the site afloat with the more than $2 million in revenue he says his pornography site generates every year.
Complaint sites are nothing new to the Web. Wal-Mart, McDonald's, and The Gap all have sites dedicated to denigrating their businesses. The Consumer Project on Technology, founded by Green Party presidential candidate Ralph Nader in 1995, has asked one of the Internet's international governing bodies to set up a new top-level ".sucks" domain to the standard .com, .org, and other traditional Web address tags.
Jeff Harris, who charges users $5 to post a complaint to his squeakywheel.com site, said that he has not yet received a complaint about a government official or a politician—but believes that could soon change. "As political handlers in the United States and Canada try to package their politicians more and more like packaged consumer goods, they shouldn't be surprised when an unhappy electorate starts demanding a refund," he said in an e-mail interview.
The success of complaint sites in the political arena—and their influence on democratic discourse—may not be substantial because they fail to use the Internet's ability for true interactivity, said George Washington University philosophy professor David Anderson, who is studying Internet politics with the Democracy Online Project.
"It does kind of encourage people to do the least possible to express themselves in a constructive way," he said.