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A Fight Begins Over Rick Perry's Internet Persona

BY Nick Judd | Wednesday, August 17 2011

Even before Rick Perry made his presidential aspirations official, the Texas governor was accruing a Chuck Norris-like mythology on Twitter.

That continues: Rick Perry has horses read his emails for him. If elected, Rick Perry will protect the secret service — not the other way around. He can whistle in thirteen languages. You get the idea.

Now, though, progressive activists from Texas are trying to counter the legend of Perry with a spin machine of their own: PerryForPresidentFML.com, a website that prompts visitors to tweet one of a current list of 50 less-than-flattering facts about the current Texas governor's record.

"The rough idea came from Matt Ortega's site, "what the fuck has obama done dot com" from the 2010 midterms," said Matt Glazer, executive director of the progressive group behind the Perry site, Progress Texas. "The site promoted the work Obama had done in a positive way. After 25 years in office and 10 years as Governor, Texas hasn't had that sort of leadership and we continue the long slide to the bottom. We have the most uninsured children, we rank in the bottom on SAT scores and education and our infrastructure is crumbling."

Update: Whoops. Glazer writes in to note he was wrong about who did that website. It was Shavanna Miller, Will Carlough, and Richard Boenigk.

Meanwhile, conversations about Perry on Twitter trend more towards talk of his machismo and less towards his record. Media mentions are veering towards Texas' economic performance during the recession, with Perry as governor, something that editors have uncritically dubbed the "Texas miracle" even as it's clear that everything from how Texas is doing to whether or not Perry should be associated with that performance are points on which reasonable people can disagree.

A sidenote on that: I don't get why a reasonable editor would recycle that cliché. It serves no pragmatic purpose in the web era. As a search strategy, it won't get many clicks: By orders of magnitude, more people are searching for information about ham sandwiches than about a "Texas Miracle." At The Atlantic Wire, Eric Randall does a great job of exploring its origins and making the case against using it — or any arbitrary cliché, really — much less using it uncritically. If a term's accuracy is in doubt and using it anyway is of dubious utility, why bother with it? Just because other people are doing it?

Back to Perry. Glazer's strategy here is to inject some very un-Chuck factoids into the Perry conversation, and it's working: According to HashTracking.com, the hashtag that the website appends to tweets sent through its service, #PerryFML, has been seen by 264,000 people in the last 24 hours thanks to 417 tweets. Glazer says he's got a report that pegs the number of total impressions at a significantly higher number. Topsy.com reports over 1,400 mentions so far.

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