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Facebook and ABC News get political

Barack Obama for the Stephen Colbert crowd

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Facebook and ABC News are to offer a new online destination for election-obsessed social networkers.

Today, as reported by The New York Times, the two outfits launched a brand new Facebook application called "US Politics". Integrating with your on-site Facebook profile, this free tool gives you quick access to political reporting from ABC News as well as discussion forums where you debate the campaign issues of the day.

And ABC says that user discussions will "influence" its reporting. "There are debates going on at all times within Facebook," ABC News president David Westin told The Times. "This allows us to participate in those debates, both by providing information and by learning from the users."

As a way of promoting this new app, Facebook and ABC will jointly sponsor the Democratic and Republican presidential debates in New Hampshire on January 5, three days before the state's important primary.

No money is changing hands between the companies. Facebook gets new content for its site, and ABC gets its stuff in front of some extra eyeballs. According to Facebook, its site now has over 56 million active users.

As the US gears up for the 2008 Presidential election, this sort of interactive political venture is popping left and right. In July, CNN televised a prez debate in which the questions were asked by web-cam-wielding YouTubers. And in early October, several former CNET employees, including co-founder Shelby Bonnie, launched a Wiki-powered site known as Political Base.

At Political Base, the idea is to build a one-stop-shop for information about political personalities, from Presidential hopefuls all the way down to small-town candidates.

"It's a place where you can discuss candidates: where they stand on the issues, how they compare on these issues to other candidates, and who's behind them in terms of funding," says co-founder Mike Tatum. "You can sit down and have an intelligent multi-partisan conversation about politics."

ABC hopes to foster similar discussions over at Facebook. But we'll see how well this actually goes. Facebookers seem more interested in faux political candidates than the real thing. After ten months online, a Facebook group called "1,000,000 Strong for Barack Obama" has only 164,000 members, but a parody group called "1,000,000 Strong for Stephen Colbert" topped a million members in just ten days. For those of you who don't know Stephen Colbert, he's an American comedian with a very tired shtick. ®

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