Stumping for the virtual vote
My Browser colleague Oliver Ryan jogged my memory this week by pointing out the role that MeetUp.com played in the early organizing days of Howard Dean's 2004 presidential bid. It's easy to forget that between mid-2003 and Janaury of 2004, Dean looked close to inevitable as the Democratic nominee, due in part to the fact that he was using state-of-the-art organizing techniques.
Now comes word, via ZDNet's Steve O'Hear, that John Edwards has set up camp in Second Life, apparently the first major party presidential candidate to do so. O'Hear quotes Jerimee Richir, Edwards' SL campaign manager who is affiliated with the real-world Edwards campaign, defending the effort as worthwhile:
I bet that half of Second Life users regularly contribute to multiple blogs. So it is a smaller community [than MySpace or Facebook], but I would argue it is a more influential community. So SL campaigns generate more buzz, not because, "the media is stupid" but because Second Life users do more talking.
The Browser has no idea whether Richir's estimate is accurate, but it hardly matters. As a general rule, beware the candidate or consultant who tells you that there is an advantage to this kind of high-tech canvassing; look at Dean's fate once the voting actually began. For one thing, if it's at all worth doing (and maybe even if it isn't), you can bet Clinton and Obama and everybody else will be on SL any day now.
But more importantly, there's a reductive stupidity in assuming that SL participants are going to base their political decisions on whether or not candidates have a presence there. Yes, this development might be one more stepping stone toward the mainstreaming of SL. But once it's mainstream, it loses it distinctiveness; the assumption is akin to saying that television viewers will prefer Edwards because he advertises on television. Real-world messages and real-world organizing still matter most. And as a guy who couldn't even deliver his home state of North Carolina for the Democrats in 2004, Edwards ought to be spending as much of his time in "First Life" as he possibly can.
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