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Categories: News

Prankster Trolls S.F. Chamber of Commerce Over Homelessness Ballot Measure

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The internet has long been used for people to troll one another, and election season is no exception. But while fierce arguments rock Twitter and Facebook users unfriend one another over political beliefs, some use the world wide web for a humorous approach to expressing political opinions. Cybersquatting is commonly associated with people purchasing domain names and then attempting to sell them at a profit, but it can also be used to snatch a popular web address before politicians do.

We’ve seen these skills applied to some pretty funny electoral campaigns, such as LondonBreed.com, which a cybersquatter held hostage for $100,000. Breed’s campaign refused to pay up, so the owner of the domain redirected it to Mark Leno’s campaign page. Breed ended up with LondonForMayor.com.

That cybersquatter remained anonymous, but the concept has carried on. This week someone purchased rightprioritywrongapproach.org, in direct response to a campaign being launched by the San Francisco Chamber of Commerce in opposition to the Our City, Our Home ballot measure. As a reminder the measure, if passed, would tax corporations that make more than $50 million annually a half percent, more than doubling San Francisco’s budget for supportive housing and homelessness services.

While a whopping 28,000 city residents signed petitions to get the measure on the ballot, some city officials are critical of the plan. In a Chronicle story that went live Monday, Jim Lazarus, senior vice president of public policy for the San Francisco Chamber of Commerce, voiced concern that companies would flee S.F. for cities with lower taxes, dragging middle-class workers with them. The Chamber of Commerce even established a coalition — which they christened Right Priority, Wrong Approach — to defeat the measure.

But any good coalition needs a website, and here’s where the Chamber of Commerce messed up: They didn’t purchase a domain name. So, someone else did, and made a pro-Our City, Our Home website at rightprioritywrongapproach.org.

We tracked down the creator, which took some time — even the Coalition on Homelessness, which is behind the measure, is unaware of who they are. The prankster agreed to speak with us on condition of anonymity.

“I feel like parody websites are a fun new genre of political campaigning,” they told SF Weekly. “I read the article yesterday morning and when I saw that they didn’t secure their domains, I felt an obligation to do it. So I bought it in the morning, scratched out some notes at lunch and then threw the website together after work and launched it around midnight. Thank god for Wix’s website designer for dummies!”

The site is clearly a parody, but it does offer some serious criticism of city officials and politicians.

“Since 1850, the Chamber has prioritized the interests of the city’s largest corporations over the needs of our residents,” it reads. “Those corporations have promised us so much money to oppose Our City Our Home that we hired two different fancy political consultants: BMWL & Partners and 50+1 Strategies. They launched our right priority wrong approach slogan by planting a favorable story in the Chronicle. But somehow, with all of this political brainpower, nobody thought to register this domain name first. Oops!”

In a city that often takes its politics really, really seriously, it’s liberating to see people get creative with their campaigns.

“It’s a testament to how the internet sometimes levels the playing field for grassroots activists,” the anonymous website creator says. “But it also blows my mind that their campaign has deep enough pockets to hire two separate high-priced consultants, but they apparently had no plan for a website — even with their well-orchestrated Chronicle article. Even more mind-blowing is that the Chamber’s ethics filing shows they created a committee with this name back on July 26!”

The owner of rightprioritywrongapproach.org isn’t offering the domain for sale. But it is a blow for the coalition, who will either have to rebrand or come up with a creative new web address. May we suggest TooOldTooSlow.com?

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Nuala Sawyer Bishari

Nuala Sawyer Bishari is the News Editor at SF Weekly. Follow her on Twitter at @TheBestNuala or nualawrites.com.

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