Carly Fiorina's presidential campaign launch hasn't gone too well. On her announcement day early last week, an anonymous person stole much of the spotlight by registering the carlyfiorina.org domain name and posting a critique of layoffs Fiorina oversaw as CEO of Hewlett-Packard.
Now the underdog candidate is trying to strike back. To prove how easy domain names are to snap up, she bought up the "dot org" domain names for two TV hosts who wanted to discuss the controversy — Seth Meyers and Chuck Todd — and redirected them to carlyforpresident.com:
Who bought http://t.co/doIq5kpOmo for $16? #Carly2016 https://t.co/6j4Hz99mmR— Carly Fiorina (@CarlyFiorina) May 6, 2015
Thanks, @chucktodd, for having me on @meetthepress this morning. Btw, check out http://t.co/m9C6LxE89J. #domaingate— Carly Fiorina (@CarlyFiorina) May 10, 2015
Fiorina's campaign also pointed out that hillaryclinton.net wasn't owned by Clinton's campaign. That's currently redirecting to Fiorina's site as well. According to MSNBC's Nisha Chittal, Fiorina's campaign says it wasn't responsible for that one. (McKay Coppins of BuzzFeed News contacted the person listed as the administrator for HillaryClinton.net, but he didn't respond to a request for comment.)
Karl Rove registered bushsucks.com and bushblows.com in 1999
Campaign domain name controversies are nothing new. In fact, this whole to-do reminds me of the great George W. Bush domain name controversy of a decade and a half ago.
As the Texas governor prepared to run for president in early 1999, squatters had already registered a series of domains, including bush2000.org, georgebushforpresident.com, georgebush.org, georgewbush.org, bush2000.net, presidentbush.com, votebush.com, and many more. Some of these sites would eventually host criticism of the candidate.
Internet search technology was still rather young then — so snapping up domain names that could be entered manually by curious typists seemed crucially important to campaigns trying to navigate the brave new online world.
Accordingly, Karl Rove decided to respond with shock and awe. By mid-1999, the Bush campaign had registered hundreds of other "Bush" domain names and redirected them all to the main site — even critical ones like bushblows.com, bushsucks.com and georgebushsucks.net. Some griped at the time that Bush's team was trying to prevent dissenting views from being aired.
Domain names no longer matter much
But with the increasing prominence of Google and more sophisticated search technology, domain-name-related controversies like this have grown less and less important. When you search for Carly Fiorina or Ted Cruz, the critical but bare-bones sites at carlyfiorina.com and tedcruz.com don't get near the top results — Google's algorithm appropriately deprioritizes them. Similarly, hillaryclinton.net will never rise to the Google front page if all it does is redirect to Fiorina's site.
Fiorina's move here, then, won't have much practical impact. It's mainly for PR — a way to turn what's been covered as a weakness for her into a strength, and to win more media attention on a sub-issue the media has already shown it loves to talk about.
The bigger problems for Fiorina's candidacy aren't about domain names, though. They're that she's never held elected office before, that she's running on an agenda Vox's Jonathan Allen called "scattered and narrow," and that her glowing claims about her record at Hewlett-Packard are "questionable in almost every aspect," according to Glenn Kessler of the Washington Post. Those are problems that are harder to solve with clever stunts.
This article was updated to include more information about the registration of HillaryClinton.net.