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  Politico Grabs ‘Second Life’ Publicity  
 
 
Posted 2006-08-31 by Tony Walsh
 
 
     
 
Mark Warner, the Democratic Governor of Virginia is establishing a presence in the virtual world of Second Life. He's being ushered in through an in-world event publicized by Linden Lab's PR company, and produced by Millions of Us, a virtual worlds marketing company founded by former Linden Lab employee Reuben Steiger. Millions of Us is a sponsor of former Linden Lab contractor James Au's Second Life blog New World Notes. Having a few weeks' lead on the news (which broke yesterday), Au has already posted an in-depth story on the event. At the event, he will be interviewing Warner "in a brief conversation that'll touch on national security, foreign policy, the Democratic Party-- and, of course, future plans for the Governor and his team in Second Life." Au writes that the event is sponsored by Forward Together, evidently Warner's official campaign team. I don't know what, precisely, his team's sponsorship entails. But it's quite fortunate for Warner that the involved parties are so closely-knit. Warner's team managed not only to grab themselves Linden Lab's resources, but the most influential blogger in Second Life's short history.

The official announcement for the event says that "Governor Warner will become the first American political leader to engage in the online virtual world..." but Reuben Steiger says "Speculation has been going on for the last month or so about who would be the first politician to open shop in Second Life." In case you're confused, Warner is not the first politician to enter the Second Life. He's just the first "leader" to do so. Warner's effort, as I see it, is as much of a publicity stunt as the effort put forward by California city council candidate Brian Ulaszewski earlier this year.

As with Ulaszewski's Second Life campaign, I believe that Warner's virtual world presence has to be all about publicity, since it is a waste of effort to attempt to influence voters in Second Life. The time and energy put into Warner's sponsored event is great for generating press-releases and Wired news stories about "The first virtual campaign by a real politician!" but there is no such thing as "mass media" or "mass exposure" in Second Life, let alone masses of people who could possibly vote. The last time I raised this issue, James Au commented "a couple dozen engaged, passionate supporters could be enough to turn the election." Au's got a great point, and I'm sure he'll be the first to be invited to interview Warner after a Second Life-facilitated victory. I can't wait for the headlines: "Politician's victory swung by virtual-world vote!"

One of my chief complaints with Brian Ulaszewski's campaign is that his Second Life avatar was named "Brian Omegamu," creating brand-confusion among potential voters. Average Second Life users aren't entitled to pick their own surnames, which is why Ulaszewski got stuck with "Omegamu." But Linden Lab-endorsed users get special treatment--that's how the bootlegged version of the band U2 got surnames like Vox, Mullen, and Edge. At the time of this writing, there's only one "Warner," and that's our man Mark Warner, whose avatar was created on August 21, 2006. This suggests his surname was created specifically for Governor Warner's entrance by Linden Lab--in fact, at the time of this writing, the surname "Warner" seems to have been reserved. It is not available to choose when starting a new account, thus preventing any new Warners from entering the world (such as "DontVoteFor Warner"). Again, a nice convenience for this real-life political effort.

Compared to Warner's effort, I have no problem with someone like Brian Ulaszewski using Second Life as a political platform. The difference between Ulaszewski and Warner is that Ulaszewski is small potatoes. He didn't get any support from Linden Lab, the maker, owner, and operator of an entire virtual universe. He was just like any other user of the system. Warner's team, on the other hand, seem to have snagged a sweet promotional package, including the endorsement of the gods of Second Life. Warner seems to have been afforded special treatment. What makes Warner more worthy of systemic support than Ulaszewski? What makes Warner more important than the rest of Second Life's users? Could (presumably monetary) sponsorship have something to do with it? Personally, I'd like to see a non-partisan virtual world.

[Update: Mark Wallace of 3pointD.com offers his thoughts on the situation, noting that Warner's entrance into SL "raises interesting questions of what’s public and what’s private in a place that (on the surface) is primarily governed by a Terms of Service rather than by a Constitution."]
 
     
 
   
 
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  11 Comments  
 
   
 
Comment posted by csven
August 31, 2006 @ 10:00 am
     
 
I thought I remembered another politician. Thanks for the reminder. And couldn't agree more - the apparent favoritism is disturbing. Another reason to add to my growing interest in Croquet.
 
     
 
     
   
 
Comment posted by rikomatic
August 31, 2006 @ 10:29 am
     
 
Any major contendor for the crown of the US presidency should get their own name to appear in SL. Hell, the Green Party and the Libertarian candidates should get their own names too.

Frankly it will likely do more for SL than it will do for their campaign.

Let's not get too bogged down in the name thingee. Lots of other celebs from the entertainment world get their own names in SL. People purporting to represent us in government and coming into SL to interact with residents should at the very least be accorded the same privilege.
 
     
 
     
   
 
Comment posted by Reuben Steiger
August 31, 2006 @ 11:19 am
     
 
Tony --

You definitely raise some interesting points. Unfortunately, I'm not sure how a politician (or for that matter, any celebrity or person with real world name recognition)could possibly be successful within your framing of the situation.
Either they could use a name that confuses voters or they could face your ire for working to secure their own name.

I completely agree that custom names should be universally available and I'm pretty sure Linden Lab has said they're "coming". Believe me, I'd like to have one myself... haven't been able to make that happen yet.

As for your statement that "I believe that Warner's virtual world presence has to be all about publicity, since it is a waste of effort to attempt to influence voters in Second Life." I couldn't disagree more strongly. In fact, I'm not even sure where to begin on this one -- I can't see a scenario under which Second Life wouldn't be enormously helpful for assembling groups of people and engaging them in dialogue and collective action. If your point is that "there's no such thing as "mass media" or "mass exposure" in Second Life", I'd argue that effective political organizations rely on just the type of interaction that SL facilitates -- group formation, dialogue and "Town Hall-ish" gatherings. Certainly "mass media" and reaching millions cannot happen yet directly within Second Life, but experience shows that stories will originate within SL and then be amplified by the blogosphere and mainstream press.

Finally, I think it's very cool that folks like Warner (he founded Nextel btw) are excited about using different media to engage new audiences. Our experience with them so far leads me to believe that thisn't isn't a flash in the pan media stunt -- they're hoping to use SL to engage passionate Americans in their cause in an ongoing way.
 
     
 
     
   
 
Comment posted by csven
August 31, 2006 @ 12:41 pm
     
 
There shouldn't be any control over names afaic. There aren't any in RL. People manage.

As for favoritism, for some reason my post on NWN (the first on that entry) has somehow disappeared. It was certainly there earlier. Curious.
 
     
 
     
   
 
Comment posted by Prokofy Neva
August 31, 2006 @ 1:11 pm
     
 
Warner's team, on the other hand, seem to have snagged a sweet promotional package, including the endorsement of the gods of Second Life.

Indeed. And it's because this is what Philip and the others *mean* by making a "Better World". A Better World isn't about supporting some dufus from even their own state at a local level. It's about creating the biggest bestest most visible kewlest amazingest platform media thingie that can affect the PRESIDENTIAL elections. THAT is how they will not only have influence, but make sure that no Congressional committees start scrutinizing things they'd rather NOT get into political debates, especial in or around 3-d virtual technology, about Gorean, and BDSM, and age-play lifestyles in SL that will turn off the mainstream, even the liberal Democratic mainstream.

It never occurred to me that the problem of Linden feting, about which I've blogged mercilessly for 2 years, which I thought was kind of a parochial problem to our world, would develop into a problem of *national real-life importance*. I guess that's why I bothered with it in the first place. These Lindens and their spin-offs want to take over, and influence people in the worst way. And they do. Because they *can*. It's their servers, and their software.
 
     
 
     
   
 
Comment posted by Tony Walsh
August 31, 2006 @ 5:22 pm
     
 
Thanks for the comments, folks. Lots to respond to here.

rikomatic, I don't object to politicians and celebs getting their real names added to SL by Linden Lab, but I do object to special treatment for politicians and celebs. Particularly politicians. The gods of the metaverse need to be apolitical. All SL residents should be treated the same way. If Warner gets his own name, I want mine, too.

Reuben, what I have written to rikomatic applies to your comments as well. I don't object to anyone "working to secure their own name," what I object to is Linden Lab giving a noteworthy politician exceptional treatment. Some of the rest of your comments were somewhat addressed in the previous conversation with James Au about Ulaszewski's campaign. How many potential Warner voters could there possibly be in an increasingly-international Second Life? The money and time spent on this SL effort would have been better invested in producing a YouTube video or MySpace presence, in my opinion.

csven, I'd be interested to know if your comment was permanently censored, or somehow temporarily taken offline. I think Prok has complained about Hamlet censoring comments in the past. This issue seems particularly sensitive, given Hamlet's relationship with the parties involved.

Prokofy, I have to admit I'm beginning to see things your way, although not quite to the same degree. Perhaps Warner is a politician Linden Lab wants elected (scary thought). It could be one reason why the company would endorse his appearance in SL on a system-wide and real-world basis. It probably isn't the reason, but in politics the appearance of unethical behaviour can be as bad as the real thing. And this whole situation looks mighty iffy to me.
 
     
 
     
   
 
Comment posted by Prokofy Neva
August 31, 2006 @ 6:11 pm
     
 
Tony, the business with the name is annoying -- we should all get our own names. And some people have even seen their own names fly by, and not been able to get their own names because they've been grabbed as avataric pseudonyms by others. Given that every avatar has a unique coded key made up of randomly generated numbers and letters that scripts can show up, and which are used for payments and recording traffic and everything else, the idea that there can't be 10 Jane Does is even silly -- of course there can be.

I think the Lindens just can't come clean on their wierd social engineering agenda with these names. What is it? I think it's partly about control, disassociating people from their real-life credentials and identity and putting them in the domain of the game gods, avatarizing them, if you will. I think they also put out these names to mark sort of geological/time strata in the world.

If you watch all the stream of newbies and their names as I do, and study the lists, you see how they deliberately chose sets of names that mark different social experiments they're doing or new features in the platform designed to do various new things. Like, after the Business Week article, they put in all these names like Rich, etc. When they suspected lots of griefers would show up after 6/6/6 they put in lots of silly names that griefers would magnetize to and they could actually then mark them better.

At a time when they were trying to see if residents would take up their own legal and justice issues and began openly to talk about this, they put in the names of all the present and past U.S. Supreme Court Justices. And on and on. Somebody could do a whole dissertation on this. If nothing else, it marks eras of editions, or "patches". The name "Neva" means, in a sense, "after land scarcity scare, when snow bottomed out, and more sims were put out for sale than ever before" etc. The names Midnight are always associated with early adaption and content creation.

So whatever they're up to with this silly name stuff (it's not about separate shards or castes, it's not a game as such), they can't let it go in ways that are just wierd, and that's why I fill in the blanks here with my marking/geological concept.

Now, is it unethical for them to override their system now and then? Why? The geological layers are disrupted by great world events where they engineered in people of great pitch and motion. They made a name for Cory Doctorow to show him off in world and sell his book; same with Tom Barnett and Julian Dibbell -- these were all Hamlet-run PR campaigns signifying various world-historical epochs. Well, why can't they? It's their thing. That doesn't bother me so much.

And is it unethical for a private software company to back a liberal politician they like in the state and national campaigns? Why not? Businesses are entitled to do this. They aren't a 501-c-3 pretending to do education; they're a private corporation. Some overzealous state attorney general could presumably check out whether they were in a sense giving campaign gifts without registering them but...how? By making a free account available on a game? by letting a PR agency like Reuben's who already pays tier or whatever sponsor an event? I don't think even the most nutty aggressive right-wing group will find fault with this.

I'm not prodding at the ethical issue as much; I'm getting more at the political and moral issue in a different way. This is supposed to be the Better World gang, right? What is a Better World? I thought it was something about universality, internationalism, increasing ties to the rest of the world, a higher plane of existence, if you will, than just American politicans? This Better World I figured was sort of transcendant of RL politics and politicians, not beholden to them. So it seems disconcerting to find them feting a RL politician in any way as if gaining worldly RL power and influence and claiming they helped dump Bush and all the rest. Naturally, the holy grail of virtual worlds will be to own the American presidential campaign like Dean tried to own the liberal blogosphere. But...It just seems a very ordinary thing to be doing, nothing better, higher, virtual, future, whatever about it.
 
     
 
     
   
 
Comment posted by csven
August 31, 2006 @ 7:26 pm
     
 
I'd be interested to know if your comment was permanently censored, or somehow temporarily taken offline. I think Prok has complained about Hamlet censoring comments in the past. This issue seems particularly sensitive, given Hamlet's relationship with the parties involved.

I suspect it was censored. I made reference to something from last year that probably didn't make Hamlet happy.
 
     
 
     
   
 
Comment posted by Prokofy Neva
August 31, 2006 @ 7:45 pm
     
 
Hamlet has completely barred me from his blog. Even if I attempted to put one line that said "WTG Hammie" on a good story, he'd delete it. He even wrote me and told me that if I posted "correctly" and only on an alt, he'd restore my posting privileges, he's allow me back but as Prokofy I was permabanned. I guess Pathfinder has adopted the same policy, as he deleted a mild post of mine about LL competing with their own residents again and GOM'ing wilderness projects from his blog this morning, something that surprisingly is causing some protest on the now-closing forums.

Hamlet feels free to censor even more now, it's his own personal blog.
 
     
 
     
   
 
Comment posted by Jason Rand
August 31, 2006 @ 11:50 pm
     
 
It will certainly be interesting to watch the evolution of political activism in the metaverse. For a peek at what some supporters (myself included) of the Free State Project are planning, see here.
 
     
 
     
   
 
Comment posted by Brace
September 7, 2006 @ 5:03 am
     
 
zzzzzzzzz.....

All this is just another facet of the politicos who used to go on MTV and Arsenio Hall to like prove how hip and cutting edge they were.

And oh yeah, to reach out to the idjit youth of America who otherwise wouldn't even know there were elections goin on..

*yawns*
 
     
 
     
   
 
 
     
 
     
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