About domain grabbing in politics
A politician's name is an essential part of his or her brand. A domain name based on his or her name is indispensable for a successful online presence. For politicians with little media attention, having their own website is often the first digital stop for potential voters. However, sometimes an unsuspecting surfer visiting a politician's site ends up on sites with a completely different message. Often at the hands of rival politicians, lobbyists and political activists who put websites online with misleading domain names.
Domain names as political statements
The general rule for registering a domain name is the ‘first come, first served’ principle. That means that in principle (there are a number of exceptions) anyone is able to register any available domain name. The first person to register it gets the domain name. A noble principle, but also interesting for so-called domain grabbers, i.e. people who register a domain name they are not going to use, but can be of value to other users or companies. They then sell this domain name and try to get as much money as possible money for it.
In recent years domain grabbing has increasingly become a political tactic. The owner of a domain name tries to make money out of a certain person's name recognition or uses the domain name to tarnish an opponent's image. There are some interesting examples of this.
Been ‘trumped’ again?
Over the years, the presence of politics on the internet and social media has become more important. Apart from being a great way of being noticed it is also the weak spot of political campaigns.
American president Donald Trump likes to boast about the domain names with the slogan or the name of his opponents. In 2019, for instance, his entourage bought the domain name todosconbiden.com. His democratic rival Joe Biden, who came up with the slogan ‘Todos Con Biden’ (All with Biden) probably didn't find this very amusing. Anyone visiting www.todosconbiden.com could read, 'Oops, Joe forgot about Latinos’, with a link to an official Trump website.
Republican presidential candidate Jeb Bush was also ‘trumped’ in 2016. He registered jeb2016.com but forgot that jebbush.com was still available. New presidential candidate Trump took full use of this to promote his own website.
That wasn't Jeb Bush's only internet problem. Anyone googling ‘Jeb for President’ at the time, was invariably redirected to the website of a couple who had bought the domain name jebforpresident.com in 2008 as a joke and used the site to advocate LGBT rights.
Trump protected himself against similar tricks of political opponents by registering about 3200 domain names with all possible derivations of his name (trumpsoda.com, donaldtrumpart.com, 3dtrump.com, etc.). To no avail, because during his campaign for a second term he was given a taste of his own medicine. Democratic presidential candidate Tom Steyer bought the domain name of Trump's new slogan ‘Keep America Great’. On www.keepamericagreat.com you could find a very unambiguous account of what Steyer thought of Donald Trump.
Trump protected himself against domain grabbing bypolitical opponents by registering about 3.200 domain names with all possible derivations of his name.
Closer to home
In Austria, Richard Lugner had to grit his teeth during the 2016 presidential elections. When he wanted to register richardlugner.at he realised the domain name was already taken. Unfortunately for the politician, the website promoted impotence medication.
Belgian politicians have also experienced domain grabbing. The website www.jinnihbeels.be, of the sp.a-candidate of the same name in Antwerp, until recently redirected you to the Green party. The domain name appeared to belong to someone called Yu Long from China. The Greens were as baffled as anyone else.
What applies for politicians, actually also applies for organisations and people who use their name as a brand: be on your guard, or you may also be ‘trumped’.