The comments on Sarah Palin's Facebook page offer a relatively unbroken chain of adulation, applause, and approval: "Tell it LIKE IS MRS. PALIN." "God Bless you Sarah!! Thanks for all you do!!" "Palin 2012!!!!" No matter the topic of her posting—an endorsement of a candidate or a remark about energy policy—scores call for her to run for office.
It should not surprise you that the comments to posts she makes on her page are screened. For any high-profile politician, online comments are like town hall forums: Both appear to be spontaneous but are actually highly choreographed. In presidential town hall meetings, people sit in high-school gymnasiums and wear flannel as they jockey for the microphone. They almost seem genuine, but as they ask questions, it becomes clear they have been carefully selected. Each question to the candidate features the same sentiment: You're pretty wonderful, aren't you?
Palin's Facebook page is a key tool in her public brand management. She has used it effectively to project her message, appear connected with voters, and bypass the traditional media (while simultaneously using it to rebroadcast her message). In a recent Facebook post, she celebrated her 2 millionth fan on the site and the size of her reach. "Two million! Wow! That's more than some cable news shows. Thank you all and let's keep the momentum!"
How much work does it take to keep everything so sanitized? To help me find out, my colleague Jeremy Singer-Vine wrote a program to capture comments to Palin's page before the clean-up crew could arrive. (Here's an explanation of how Jeremy's program works.) All these posts were initially public, if only for a few minutes. We looked at the comments to 10 Palin posts over 12 days, capturing the deletions in the 24 hours after the posts were live. In that period, a rough average of 10 percent of total posts were deleted.
The deletions amount to a real-time look at how much effort and care Palin puts into protecting her public image. It's not just the number of posts that are screened out that gives some indication of how seriously Palin's team is monitoring things. The superfine mesh through which posts are sifted also gives an indication of the work involved. You don't get erased just for using vulgarity or pushing spam (which Facebook might remove anyway if flagged). The kinds of posts that are likely to get you removed from the Palin comments section can be divided into categories (the comments have not been edited):
Mean comments about Sarah Palin. "Please go away from my wall. I do not like you or agree with any dumb thing you say or do."
Mean things about the people who say mean things about Sarah Palin. "if you dont like her posts LEAVE THE GROUP DUMBASS!!!!"
Racial or ethnic slurs. "America's greatest threat is Marxism and International Jewry/Zionism! We will never regain our Liberty and Freedom until we expel every Jew from America!"
Polite disagreement. "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," wrote one in response to Palin's post on the NAACP's charge that the Tea Party tolerated racism. "Even they [the NAACP] admit the Tea Party is not a racist organization. Mrs. Palin, I believe you to be an honorable Woman. You believe in your cause. Sometimes for the good of the cause one has to make a stand even to those that support the cause. Remember John Mccain, circa 2008 in which a woman stood up and called Candidate Obama a Muslim. The Honorable John Mccain rebuked her. This could be your moment."
Too much agreement. "Do us a favor Sarah, trap a few Wolves and ship em to D.C., they do eat Rats don't they? Have a great trip Sarah, God Bless."
Criticism of her children. "please dont let your daughter do a reality show :(but i love your family and you ..hope thats just a rumor from the liberals."
Anything about Obama's birth certificate or conspiracies related thereto, even in muted form. "Just so we're clear, Conspiracy theories about Obama's refusal to release his college records—lunacy. Conspiracy theories about Trig Palin—journalism."