My first Medialoper assignment and I’ve already missed a deadline. Lopy, the Editor, e-mailed me last night to remind me that my story should be filed no later 5 a.m. this morning. By 8 a.m. my voice mail was full and I was ignoring Lopy’s frantic IMs. The general election isn’t until November 2008 — over 18 months away. Why the hell do I have a 5 a.m. deadline in April of 2007?
For the record, Linden Lab did a major upgrade yesterday and the grid was down much longer than expected. On top of that I’m still setting up my new compound in one of the most remote regions in all of Second Life. My hut is located on the Eastern edge of the universe (literally) and is surrounded by water as far as the eye can see (at least until a casino or strip club moves in next door). It’s the perfect environment for me to focus on covering a political campaign as strange as the one the 2008 presidential race is shaping up to be. These ludicrous 5 a.m. deadlines are no help at all.
By now you’ve probably heard that all of the leading Democratic presidential candidates have setup headquarters in Second Life. So far the media coverage of these campaigns has been muddled, skeptical, and occasionally mocking. For reporters who can’t tell the difference between a virtual world and a video game, there’s no clear reason for the campaigns to be here. Those same reporters are overlooking the fact that presidential campaigns are already a game, and moving that game into a virtual world full of sex-crazed furries and flying penises is simply a logical progression in the already weird history of American politics.
The part I don’t understand is how the political consultants are allowing any of this to happen. In an era where consultants seemingly control every minute aspect of a candidate’s message, and campaign events are carefully scripted, Second Life is like the wild west. Nothing about Second Life is predictable or controllable.
On one hand, these people must know the risks involved in bringing their campaigns to a wold ruled only by anarchy, on the other hand they don’t want to miss out on the next-big-thing.
New media has had a significant impact on the political process over the past five years. Blogs had a major impact on the 2004 presidential election, and will continue to be an important force for the foreseeable future.
It may be hard to remember now, but back in 2003 some people were actually skeptical about Howard Dean’s use of blogs and the internet to organize his campaign. These days Dean looks like a trailblazer and a visionary. Never mind the fact that he was soundly defeated. You only have to look at McCain Space and My.BarackObama.com to realize that Dean’s use of the internet forever changed the way American presidential campaigns will be run.
Then there’s YouTube. The video sharing site played an unexpectedly huge role in the 2006 mid-term elections. George Allen might be the Republican front-runner right now if it weren’t for YouTube. He’d almost certainly still be in the US Senate. YouTube is what they call a game changer.
While Blogs and YouTube will continue to wield an increasing influence on the political process, 2008 will mark the rise in importance of social networks in the political process. Again, this is an evolution of the work the Dean campaign pioneered. Sites like My.BarackObama.com are basically grass-roots organizing machines. For supporters they provide a way to feel connected with their peers around the country and an effective way to organize locally.
So where does Second Life fit into all of this? Above all else Second Life is a social network. All of the elements that make social networking so effective on the 2D web are present in abundance in Second Life. What Second Life adds to social networking is an immersive 3D environment and some amazing tools for real-time collaboration. It’s easy to see how a campaign could make effective use of Second Life.
As for the media (including Medialoper) focusing on furries and other fantastic creatures, well, sometimes it’s easy to forget there are real people behind each avatar, and many of them are registered to vote (I can see the bumper stickers already, “I’m an avatar AND I vote”). Running part of a campaign in Second Life doesn’t seem like such a far fetched idea.
The fact that candidates seem eager to embrace new media opportunities is a classic example of campaigns doing whatever it takes to reach out to voters wherever they may be.
The move into Second Life is not without risks, however. The John Edwards campaign was roughed-up almost immediately after opening its headquarters.
First a carbon copy of the Edwards campaign headquarters popped up next door — except the group behind the cloned building were supporting television psychic John Edward for president. The Edwards campaign was surprisingly not amused. Which is problematic for Edwards because campaign organizers really need to have a sense of humor if they’re going to last long in Second Life.
Ultimately the twin campaign building proved to be a minor nuisance compared to what came next. First Fox News did a typical fair and balanced hatchet job on the Edwards campaign in Second Life, then the campaign building was defaced by vandals (although there was a 50-50 chance the vandals might have hit the wrong building). The ensuing media coverage was not exactly what you would call positive.
The Edwards campaign was finally forced to move its headquarters to a private island — the Second Life equivalent of moving to a gated community. Edwards may be trying to position himself as a populist candidate, but in Second Life he’s a private island guy all the way.
So how bad could things possibly get in a Second Life presidential campaign? Consider this Washington Post report on events surrounding the French presidential campaign in earlier this year:
The clash started on a January morning when protesters attacked the cyberspace headquarters of extremist French presidential candidate Jean-Marie Le Pen in the popular 3-D Internet fantasy world Second Life.
Le Pen security forces responded with push guns, whimsical digital weapons that tossed bodies through the air “like rag dolls,” according to one witness. Protesters fought back with pig grenades, firing fat pink porkers that exploded in neon pink splatters. When the shooting ended, Le Pen’s headquarters lay in ruins, deserted by staff and guards.
Here’s a valuable lesson that anyone with serious political aspirations should take note of: Make sure your headquarters can withstand attack by pig grenades — or even grenades made out of any other barn-yard animal.
By now one thing should be clear: 2008 is not going to be a normal presidential campaign. In fact, we may not see another normal presidential campaign in any of our lifetimes.
I need to wrap this up quickly because Lopy has been pinging me incessantly for the last 45 minutes. This is far too much pressure given the limited budget I’m working on. I was given 1000L TOTAL for the whole campaign. Guess what? That money’s already gone! I spent it on the submarine. I could have gone with the cheaper model, but I honestly feel that the invisibility cloaking device and extremely sophisticated weaponry are key to covering this campaign the way it needs to be covered. I know it may sound like an extravagant expense, but if the French campaign is any indication I’ll need all of the help I can get.
The point here is that I spent my entire advance on a very important piece of equipment that will be crucial for me to get the full story. It would be a shame to sacrifice Medialoper’s campaign coverage because Lopy (or the cheap owners backing Lopy) can’t see fit to provide me with adequate cash to get the job done right.
If you care about democracy in the free world, e-mail Lopy today and tell him to wire me more Linden – pronto!