The 2007 Federal Election a non-entity for Second Life

In June this year, I wrote a piece for Crikey.com.au on the lack of interest by Australian political parties in Second Life as a campaigning platform. I even contacted the offices of the Minister and Shadow Minister for Communications asking them for their thoughts on Second Life – with absolutely no response.

Now that the 2007 Federal Election is underway, it’s fairly safe to assume there’s not going to be any official campaigning in Second Life and it also doesn’t look likely that any grassroots efforts are underway. Given the heavy presence of US presidential hopefuls in SL, was I being naive in assuming there would at least be some activity from an Australian perspective? I fully understand that with a lot less than 15000 active Aussie SL users, there’s not a lot of political gain in terms of votes gained – but surely there’s some awareness of the value of being perceived as innovative. The first Australian political party who sets up in SL is pretty much guaranteed widespread, mainstream media coverage.

I’d also be interested in hearing suggestions of how political parties could actually be of use in SL, if at all. I intend on bundling up the suggestions and emailing them to each of the parties for comment.

Hillary Clinton’s SL Campaign Plans

As mentioned previously, Hillary Clinton has a campaign presence in SL. We took the opportunity to catch up with chairperson of the Hillary 2008 Group in Second Life, Padlurowncanoe Dibou. She’s an educational technology director, Democrat member and mother or three. She’s also very passionate about the benefits of Second Life for promoting policy debate.

Lowell: Can you outline how you got involved in the Hillary campaign?

PD: I visited the former Hillary HQ and began my initial participation there.

Lowell: I’m assuming you’re a member of the Democrats?

PD: Yes, I am.

Lowell: May I ask where in the US you are located in real life (RL)?

PD: I am from Arkansas, home of the Clintons for many years. Arkansas is Bill’s home state and he was governor of Arkansas for many years.

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Lowell: Is this build an official part of the RL campaign?

PD: As for being the chair (of the virtual HQ), it is something that evolved. I was asked by other members to do so. I am not a RL politico — my interest is not associated with any political career aspirations.

Lowell: Why did you choose Hillary’s campaign rather than one of the other potential candidates? The Arkansas connection?

PD: I am here because I passionately believe that Senator Clinton is the best person to lead the United States both nationally and internationally.

Lowell: What are the main advantages Sen Clinton has over the other Democrat runners such as Obama and Edwards?

PD: Senator Clinton is the only candidate that has the wherewithall to put together a top notch team of people and she has the international trust and support to lead us away from where the Bush administration has put us.

Lowell: In regard to this virtual HQ – were you part of the team that built the preview stage and how has the response been since it opened?

PD: Let me back up for a minute to answer that question. My first approach here is to serve the Hillary supporters here in SL. My primary purpose is them — not to be regurgitation of what they would find in RL. This is a unique opportunity to take political participation and discourse in a new direction. You, as a blogger, are part of that new direction. After the debates, the major news networks immediately look to see what the bloggers are saying. This is the next dimension to that.

Lowell: So in that respect has this HQ attracted lots of interest from SL residents and the wider community?

PD: Our last event on the 4th of July — “You and I — 24 Hours of Freedom in SL” was attended by hundreds of SL residents. In RL and SL, we are dealing with a new phenomenon — people using technology to play, to communicate, receive news, etc — and it is becoming more interactive and accessible all the time.

Lowell: Who is funding this HQ? It’s a great sized parcel / sim which isn’t cheap.

PD: It is run by the Hillary group’s steering committee. To give you an example, the photos, letters, and Fed Ex costs to contact the RL campaign came from my pocket.

Lowell: Ok – so to clarify, the steering committee doesn’t currently have a formal connection to the RL campaign team but you are hoping it will be endorsed?

PD: My first priority is to serve the SL Hillary supporters, the second is to put together and host events where important issues facing the United States are respectfully discussed, and the third is to build a bridge between the SL Hillary supporters and the RL campaign. I feel that if priority one and two are met, then the third will come.

Lowell: So the bridge building you’d hope would eventually lead to a formal endorsement of SL-based campaigning?

PD: Yes, that would give us support and an opportunity to raise funds in support of the Senator. This is a unique place. One of the best parts of SL is the response from the international community here. They are very supportive of the Clintons in general and are very vocal about their support of Hillary.

Lowell: Are you ever in touch with anyone on the RL campaign team?

PD: Yes, I keep them updated on our progress here in SL.

Lowell: The interest in political campaigning presences like this is whether candidates have the remotest interest in SL and how transparent the campaigns are. Hence my questions on linkages as I know some people are very wary of SL builds proclaiming to stand for a candidate yet avoid disclosing any link to the RL teams.

PD: I do think they have an interest. How could they not? The MacArthur Foundation has come to SL. Government organizations like NOAA and the CDC are here. Major corporations, universities, etc

Lowell: So you believe candidates themselves believe it’s a valid campaigning tool?

PD: Yes, but you have to put into perspective how rapidly SL has grown. I came in-world in November, and the growth and interest in it has been truly amazing. But in some ways, it is the Wild West. Regulations, legal matters, etc. have a difficult time keeping abreast of emerging technologies. SL is providing an opportunity and a voice to the people — sometimes people who don’t feel they have one in RL. It is also giving us an opportunity to evolve the old way of doing things.

Lowell: In regard to the array of policies and speeches etc you have here – do you get people utilising the opportunity to look at the details of Sen Clinton’s positions on things?

PD: First, take the Hillary HQ. Our vision is for it to be a fun place for supporters and interested people to come. We know that students learn better when it is fun — and I think the same holds for us adults. I have had many interesting political discussions here sitting on these couches, as the waves, roll in, and great music plays in the back ground. We held a universal health care discussion here with a panel of health care professionals and a moderator. The audience was asked to submit their thoughts and ideas to be compiled and shared with the RL campaign. Before and after, there were stories and ideas shared among SL residents. Afterwards, we enjoyed the music of a live entertainer here in SL. We make it fun — a time to make friends, learn, share, dance — and certainly there are those that may criticise our approach, thinking SL political events should be more like RL political events. But our recent turnout suggests otherwise.

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Lowell: When the Democratic primaries have been completed and there’s a presidential candidate, do you think the other presences will throw their weight behind the successful person?

PD: I can’t speak for others, but as I told the Obama SL campaign, we should be friends as one day we will be working together. I intend to. There are more unifying factors amongst US Democrats than differences. I will be happy to take that agenda forward.

Lowell: If you had unlimited resources, what sort of campaign presence would you build in Second Life?

PD: Obviously, it would be helpful to have someone be able to devote themselves full time to the SL Hillary efforts. I, and others, must balance full time careers and families with our efforts here. As you can imagine, putting on a 24 hour event takes a great deal of planning and implementation — in addition to attending the event.

Lowell: Why do you think there are more Democrat candidate presences than Republican ones?

PD: US Democrats are progessive people. I think they have vision and are forward looking. That is certainly a description that applies to people that embrace SL’s possibilities. By the year 2010, 80% of websites will be in a virtual world.

Lowell: Have you had issues with griefing in a significant way and if so do you believe it’s come from your political opponents?

PD: No, griefing has not been a problem at our events.

Lowell: Do you think those sort of things could be an issue as the real campign gets underway next year?

PD: Certainly, once a democratic candidate is chosen, it raises the stakes and interest in that candidate to a whole new level. But with good management by people who are SL savvy, I don’t think it will be problematic.

Lowell: If Hillary is the successful nominee, what chances would you give of her making a virtual appearance in the future

PD: I think the chances of some kind of appearance would be good. There are a lot of ways to do that — just as the 7.7.07 concerts were brought to SL live today or how the MacArthur event was managed. All very successful, all very safe.

US Presidential hopefuls in Second Life

With less than 18-months until the next US Presidential election, the number of presidential candidate presences has grown steadily. In real-life the USA has a significant influence on the world, including Australia, so we’ll follow the campaign as it hots up in SL. Here’s what’s happening so far:

Republicans

Republican Ron Paul is one of the lesser known candidates:

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The Republican Party of SL gives you the opportunity to vote for your preferred Republican candidate:

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Democrats

Edwards Campaign Central is the area devoted to Democrat John Edwards’ tilt:

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Hillary Clinton 2008 is one of the glitzier presences:

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Grassroots Barack Obama HQ is quite corporate with plenty of Obama photos and Obama TV.

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Mike Gravel 2008 Headquarters has extensive information on his policy positions and is a large presence to boot (perhaps inversely proportional to his level of real-life support):

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Related presences

Finally, there’s the Presidential Flag store which has flags and t-shirts from all the known candidates as well as a sales leaderboard:

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