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Craigslist Founder Gets Political

Kim Hart

Craig Newmark really doesn't want to be bothered with politics. In fact, he can't wait until the election is over so he can catch up on his favorite TV shows, like "Pushing Daisies" and new episodes of "The Simpsons."

Still, he's on the road for the next month, traveling to swing states, campaigning for Barack Obama. He's an official technology surrogate for the Democratic presidential candidate, which means he can speak on behalf of the campaign about technology policy.

Newmark, the founder of craigslist, isn't even a Democrat. He describes himself as a "Libertarian moderate." He admits he has "nothing to gain" from helping get Obama elected. But he's convinced Obama's ideas about using technology to mobilize citizen participation in the democratic process, using the Internet to make government more transparent and open, and making more voices heard online will transform how the federal system -- and state, county and city systems -- work in the future.

He was in Washington today for a few press events. He spoke at Google's D.C. office this morning, and then to journalists at the National Press Club. I caught up with him this afternoon, just before he returned to his hotel room to check in on the customer service operations for craigslist. (He makes it very clear that he's not in charge of customer service, he's not even a manager. He's a customer service representative -- nothing more.) If he's away from a computer for too long, he says, he gets "visibly tense."

But for a few minutes, at least, he's content to talk about his vision for the future.

"I would prefer to be more cynical, but I can see this grassroots technology make these ideas real," he told me over coffee. "Every day I see grassroots democracy working in a simple and vital form (on the craigslist site). I see the challenges -- I even see the occasional instance of fraud. But I also see great passion for people to be engaged. And I see the mechanisms to make that happen evolving now."

Mechanisms? I ask him to be a bit more specific.

He points to how craigslist users vote on whether suspicious listings should be removed. He cites the popular site Slashdot for giving users the tools to filter out people who try to pick fights and write fake or rude comments, letting users vote to move some comments up in the rankings and to make some comments invisible. It's all a system he broadly calls "reputation management," and the idea is to turn over the policing of the site to the users themselves.

"People with the strongest, most recognized reputations will be influential," he said. "I believe in a culture of trust -- treating people the way you want to be treated."

Why Obama? What makes his campaign so different, I ask.

He starts talking about lobbyists, and how a lot of them unfairly get a bad rap. "They're just trying to get the best results for their clients in what is essentially a sausage factory," he said. But there are some predatory lobbyists who don't operate ethically.

"When I look at Barack's campaign, it's pretty free of lobbyists, especially the predatory kind," he said. "But I look at McCain's campaign...."

He trails off, clearly trying to find a tactful way of conveying his thoughts. "He's surrounded by lobbyists," he said.

He talks about the historical significance of this presidential race. "2008 is like 1776 all over again," he said. "Barack and the people around him are the new founders of this new movement."

Last night, he watched the vice-presidential debate at a downtown bar with a group of D.C. supporters of Obama. He gathered 800 people to go to Virginia, a battleground state, to help get out the vote.

He shows me his watch, with a smiling Obama emblazoned on its face.

"What time is it?" he asked, with a dramatic tone. "Time for change."

By Kim Hart  |  October 3, 2008; 5:11 PM ET  | Category:  Kim Hart
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Please email us to report offensive comments.

Word, Craig.

Posted by: mbee | October 3, 2008 6:45 PM

really? how nice that he is standing up for what he believes.

Posted by: Anonymous | October 3, 2008 6:49 PM

Craig, you should make a list of the lobbyists in McCain's campaign. You could call it... never mind.

Posted by: John | October 3, 2008 7:15 PM

The time is now!
To remind Americans that Barack Hussein Obama is just another politician that will do or say whatever it takes to fulfill his political ambitions. Barack is calculated and methodical about hiding his true convictions and intentions, and uses deception to get elected.

The time is now!
For Americans to remember Barack Hussein Obama’s intimate 20 year relationship with the Priest of Hate, Jeremiah Wright, who blessed Barack and Michelle marriage and baptized both their daughters. AND, to remember the hideous videos of Jeremiah Wright’s congregation which included the Obamas, damning America with bombastic joy, after the Muslim’s criminal attack on America on 9/11.

The time is now!
For Americans to remember how Barack's Priest of Hate, Jeremiah Wright used his tax-exempt church to exercise a radical political agenda, and how he refers to Israel, as well as America, as a "racist" State. Barack's religious leader, Jeremiah Wright believes that the true 'Chosen People' are the blacks; and that black values are superior to middle-class American values.
 Indeed Barack's Priest of Hate, Jeremiah Wright is a black supremacist.

The time is now!
To remind Americans that Barack Hussein Obama wants to be president to implement Jeremiah Wright’s dream of a black supremacist society in America.

The time is now!
For Americans of all political parties to come together to preserve the future of the country we love and have always been proud of, by voting for a True American Patriot and War Hero who risked his life for our country:
John McCain for President of the United States of America.

Country First!
Americans for John McCain/Sarah Palin

Posted by: Manolete | October 3, 2008 7:57 PM

Craig has always espoused left wing views no matter what he calls himself. So it should come as no surprise that he supports Obama.

Posted by: Rick | October 3, 2008 8:27 PM

It's unbelievable how smart people are so dumb to baseless politics. Obama is an empty suit who promises nothing, believes nothing and was brought up by a preacher who hates America. Unbelievable

Posted by: Paulie in Brooklyn | October 4, 2008 10:28 AM

Obama the Monster of hate, corruption and evil. God help our country. Oh wait he doesn't believe in God, I forgot.

Posted by: Harry in IT | October 4, 2008 10:31 AM

Thank you Craig for your vision, intelligence and generosity. Supporting Barack who will be our next president is the most important thing you could be doing. You are only great and Barack is incredible. To those people who can only bad mouth people of accomplishment and unselfishness I say - "you are sad".

Posted by: Eloise Trainor | October 4, 2008 4:54 PM

Hello Craig,,,,You have such a great thing going with Craigslist. Why do you want to destroy it by complementing Obama???? Obama is basically a terroist in sheeps clothing. He is a musslim,,,,he is racist,,and his ideas will hurt the common person. If you are not rich,,,Obama will not help you. He is the 2nd highest receipenent from Frannae Mack. He kills children born alive, etc. I can go on and on about Obama but I guess it doesn't do any good. Obama is a looser. I wouldn't vote for him if he was the last person on Earth.

Posted by: doesn'tmatter | October 5, 2008 12:07 AM

Judging from some of the comments in thread, it's apparent the right is getting desperate. With their man McCain slipping in the polls and abandoning key battleground states, they've nothing left in them but to smear Obama (He's a racist muslim? Really!?).

It's good to see that Craig, like other independents in America, are supporting the right candidate in this critical race. Since McCain doesn't use the "internets" he has had to rely upon DC lobbyists to write his tech platform. And it reads like a Dear Santa list from the telcos and other industry insiders. Another doozy from the "team of mavericks."

Posted by: tkarr | October 5, 2008 6:33 AM

it will be a sad day for america if people lkie the above should happen to win this election, there is no love for america by either craig or obama, i love america and do not wish to see it dammed by anyone.

Posted by: maurice | October 5, 2008 7:50 PM

I see many (most?) of these comments are desperate personal smears of Senator Obama, given with zero evidence. Here is a candidate who has shown nothing but a good heart and a clear head, but his opponents are in a frenzy to destroy him with completely unfounded rumors.

Words are cheap. Senator Obama's superb history of service to others speaks far louder. Look at the real record. It is true evidence.

Thank you, Craig Newmark, for supporting a better future for us all!

Posted by: Eric | October 6, 2008 12:31 PM

How did all you Republican Operatives get in here? Take your dirty tricks, lies and distortions over to Fox News and say hi to your ditto head leader Rush Limburger.

Posted by: Scarecrow | October 6, 2008 2:04 PM

The best reputation management uses actual reputation tied to real identity. Almost no one posting their views online under an alias or anonymously has any agenda-setting power. As long as online news sites and blogs default people to aliases, they will remain the most powerful in online expression. Perhaps at the the national level this doesn't matter, but at the local, even state level where people have a more reasonable chance at influence real names (and city) is the way to go. At E-Democracy we've been doing that for 15 years and it works.

Steven Clift

Posted by: Steven Clift | October 6, 2008 2:07 PM

Who opened the bloody gate and let all these sheeple in here?
The fools can't even spell Muslim (see "musslim, above).
No wonder my country is doomed - the propaganda is so much easier for the ignorant to cling to instead of thinking for themselves.

Posted by: LALA | October 7, 2008 1:26 AM

"Words are cheap. Senator Obama's superb history of service to others speaks far louder. Look at the real record. It is true evidence."

I'm not sure what record you're looking at, apparently it's served with a side of koolaid. If only people did more research. Oh well, we live in a country driven by pop culture. Obama seems to "pop" more so clearly he's qualified...

Posted by: Rob | October 7, 2008 11:59 AM

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