Critiquing the Effectiveness of Virtual and Social Media in Political Campaigns

The media fell in love with Barack Obama's virtual world outreach, from Second Life campaign offices to the (now) Presidential Twitter Account and a multi-million member Facebook fan page. As Americans head into the 2010 Midterm Elections, candidates and incumbents from both sides of the political aisle are making virtual outreach a priority.

But all is not well in the virtual campaign world. Hopes are running high that candidates in the United Kingdom's upcoming elections will make use of the same kind of game-changing technology that thrust Barack Obama into the White House. But as one major international newspaper reports, the outsized success of virtual political campaigning in the United States may not expand well to countries lacking America's unique electoral system.

The great vault into the future promised by virtual world campaigning and critiqued by this blog back in December may be progressing slower than social media's mavens like to think. Let's take a look.

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China Struggles to Evolve in the Age of Online Gaming

Worldofwarcraft_chinaChina is an interesting case, a society where strict cultural censorship gives way to a vibrant community of online gamers. But this online freedom only exists up to a point, as both Google and World of Warcraft can attest.

China's educated middle and upper classes are voracious online gamers, and many are unhappy with several proposed changes to the popular Chinese online game "Legend." This caps off a tumultuous few months for a Chinese government struggling to come to terms with the emergence of virtual worlds.

Let's take a look at why some Chinese gamers are staging virtual world protests, and why the Chinese government is moving to shut down offending servers in a bid to control the potential threat of unchained protest.

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Making the Case for Digitally-Accessible Biometric ID Cards

There's quite a bit of insecurity in the United States about the prospect of biometric identification cards, an issue that finds its roots in the illegal immigration debates between 2004 and 2006. For civil libertarians, the concept of a card containing your fingerprint, medical data, residence information and – potentially – rings an Orwellian bell. Pro-immigrant activist groups feared the card could be used to discriminate against granting new work visas.

Now Congress is again pursuing the issue of a "smart" national ID, pushing the Obama Administration to consider the use of biometric identification as a simpler means for employer verification of residency and legal working status. Organizations like the American Civil Liberties Union are dusting off their talking points in preparation for the fight. With a decidedly left-leaning Congress and White House, the issue seems dead in the water.

But ignoring the possibilities of a digital biometric ID gives the touchy issue short shrift, for a national biometric ID card need not be an Orwellian intrusion into the private lives of Americans, nor does it need to be a major identity theft crisis waiting to happen. In fact, contrary to the arguments of both hard-line conservatives and privacy advocates, national biometric ID's could potentially turn the United States into a better, more efficient place to live. Let's find out why.

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Virtual Extremism: How Social Media Gave Terrorist Groups a Second Wind

It's no shock that militant groups around the world make use of mass communication tools like the Internet in order to recruit new faces and keep isolated cells informed of worldwide developments. The power of virtual communication is again in the spotlight after Islamic militant group Al Qaida used Internet message boards to announce their intent to bomb South Africa's World Cup this June.

There is valuable knowledge to be gained by understanding why militant groups – including American-based right-wing militias recently raided by the FBI – are turning to New Media outlets like Facebook, Twitter and free message boards in order to organize and promote their messages. But don't expect to find an Al Qaida fan page on Facebook – in many cases, the social networking of militant organizations is rudimentary and easily destroyed: The perfect cover in an age of increasing anti-terror surveillance.

Let's take a look at how global militant groups are falling in love with the message-amplifying power of virtual communities, and why some in the United States intelligence community are wary of the virtual world's potential to serve as an unwitting base for real-world radicals.

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Virtual Worlds are Reshaping How Indians and Pakistanis Think, Act and Socialize

Taj-mahal-3d-screenshot-1_reference You may not be familiar with The Hindu, India's national newspaper. I recommend it to anyone who wants to read some insightful work from an up-and-coming world power.

A fascinating article by The Hindu's reporters looks at how the technology powering virtual worlds is evolving, and how the way people communicate is evolving with it.

Pixels and Policy takes a look at why India has such an interest in virtual communication, and what their research tells us about the importance of the Metaverse across cultures.

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Virtual Voices: Why Americans Need Online Voting

Pict_20090210PHT48991We’ve talked about how campaigns are changing to accommodate
both
a virtual presence
in games like Second Life and a real-world campaign
office.

We’ve talked about how government is increasingly involving itself in
virtual worlds as cheap, effective means of spreading information.

But what about the voter? When does the ballot box move online? Pixels and Policy explores the technological problems and hard work needed to bring online voting to America.

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Can Virtual Medical Consultations Expand and Improve Health Care?

For 44 million people, health care is a luxury beyond reach. No wonder, then, that health care reform is the topic du jure across the country this year.

As Washington politicians debate an expansive and expensive universal health care bill, many are looking for ways to bring the cost of health care within reach of those left behind. How many are looking at the ways virtual world technology is evolving to lower the cost of physician consultations and medical screening?

Pixels and Policy investigates.

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Politicians Stump for Elusive Virtual Votes

Secondlife-obamaBarack Obama spent nearly $800 million pursuing the White
House in 2008
. Over half of that was media spending:
Television, direct mail, rallies, and internet infrastructure, including a virtual Second Life headquarters.

Compared to his expansive broadcast media strategy, Obama's foray into virtual worlds hardly ranks.

Yet the campaign's tiny investment in a corner of the Metaverse will make a big difference in 2012, when politicians begin to integrate virtual worlds into official campaign strategy.

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Virtual Tourists Show Little Interest in U.S. Government Sims

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        The DoE's island is impressive, but empty.

Until recently, the Department of Energy''s involvement in Second Life has been limited to
hosting a speaker through the University of Delaware's Second Life
lecture series,"Global Agenda." This attracted a few dozen avatars, some of whom even stayed through the entire speech.

Fascination with virtual worlds, especially Second Life, has led several government agencies to construct outreach and public education centers in the Metaverse.

Now, after several years of concerted development, these virtual temples to the Department of Energy and the NOAA sit mostly unused, victims of what one tourist calls "the big empty."

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Politics in the Virtual World: Do Virtual Voters Care?


Second life hypewatch3

              
No traffic even at the best of times.

Political campaigns are latching on to the virtual world as the latest means of squeezing every last percentage point in close races.

What remains to be seen is whether informed avatars are making a difference.

Pixels and Policy looks at why political optimism about the use of Second Life and virtual worlds might be a bit premature.

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