Friday, January 11, 2008

Political Vandalism in Second Life

I find this story interesting for a number of reasons, but my discussion of it is motivated primarily by skepticism about the value of political activity inside a virtual world...

Second Lifer Astrophysicist McCallister, whose real name is Skyler McKinley, was kind enough to comment again one my blog. He described the report that a Gravel aide had been involved in vandalizing the John Edward HQ in Second Life as "misinformation." So I looked into it a little further.

Let me say a couple of things first...

Number One: I understand that Second Life (along with the Internet in general) is growing and evolving. Maybe Second Life will morph so completely that it will cease to be a game one day; but that day isn't here yet, I don't think. And so my attitude is one of tongue-in-cheek humor as I think about trying to convince someone whose appearance is a cross between a cartoon character and a mythical beast from Homer's Odyssey that they should vote for my candidate for President.

Number Two: On a scale of geekiness, I probably only get a four or five out of ten. But I am computer literate, involved in the Internet, and thrilled about the coming of the Information Age. I use a SmartBoard in my classroom almost daily. I send and/or receive 50 to 100 emails a day. I read my news mostly online. I have a Facebook page. I made part of my living by blogging and creating Internet content for the New York Times Company for about eight years and I still make money blogging. I can use PowerPoint, Excel, Access, and Word. I own a digital camera and I listen to MP3s. So I'm not throwing off on Second Life per se (it's probably a great game) or on Internet communication in general. It's the way I communicate, too.

That said, I found myself laughing a lot a I explored what information (and misinformation) I could find about the cyber-attack on the Edward’s HQ in Second Life.

Unless there were two attacks, Skyler seems to be correct in saying that the idea that a Gravel aide was involved is just misinformation. Did an attack happen? The Edwards campaign has a blog post about it at their official campaign website where a "witness" describes seeing it and says that the perpetrators were (gasp) Republicans. The attack included cyber-feces (which I’m guessing doesn't smell as bad as the real stuff). It's not clear to me how the witness could tell that the vandals were Republicans. S/he took notes, saved chat logs, and filed a report with Second Life's owner, Linden Labs. That strikes me a something akin to calling Mattel because I think someone molested my Barbie doll, but what do I know.

meThe source of the misinformation was Wonkette, published in July of 2007. The Edwards blog post is dated February 28, 2007 - almost five months earlier. So if there was a Gravel aide involved in an attack on the Edwards HQ in Second Life, it was a second attack I'd say. But Wonkette is the only source I found.

On the other hand, there are a number of stories about the February cyber-attack on Edwards. Vox said in March that "anarchist hippies" did it. Vox called them "virtual terrorists" and said the group calls itself "Patriotic Nigras: e-terrorists at large." Wired Blog Network has a short piece dated March 1st with a good picture of the damage. And 10 Zen Monkeys has a longer article on the attack, published on March 5th.

Besides the one from Skyler, I got two comments on the first story. The one by Second Lifer Kiwini Oe (whose real name appears to be Steven Nelson) was interesting. Follow his logic:
20 years ago there were chat rooms and message boards. Some people used them to play games, others to lead fantasy lives, and others to discuss politics with people located around the world. Graphics hardware, network speeds, processing power, software have all evolved over time, and a multiuser interface like Second Life is the result. Some people use it to play games, others to lead fantasy lives, and others to discuss politics with people located around the world.
And the problem is one of unraveling those incompatible uses if the goal of political discussion is to accomplish something in the real world. They're not going to have a Second Life Primary anytime soon that leads to real delegates at the real nominating conventions (I don't think).

The last comment was from an anonymous person claiming to be Second Lifer Pollywog Gardenvale (Claire Condra in the real world) who did the interview with Skyler's Second Life alter ego on the Gravel campaign in the virtual world. I have no reason to doubt that she is who she says she is; but she evidently doesn't have an ID for Blogspot, so I don't know how I'd verify it.

She says two things that stuck out to me:

  1. "My interview with Skyler McKinley (Astrophysicist McCallister) is no less valid because it was conducted inside a virtual world rather than by phone or e-mail." Well, I suppose that's a matter of opinion. I've taught fact verse opinion to fourth and fifth graders regularly for a couple of years now as part of their reading curriculum. I'm not sure how you define "valid" in this context. But in a setting where your subject might be playing a fantasy game, what do his answers mean to me as a reader?

    You seem to have had a marvelous career in publishing, dating back to at least the 1990's when you (I think) were publishing stuff on time management in the San Diego Business Journal. If one of the purposes of writing is to entertain, your piece does that. I wasn't throwing off on your work. I was throwing off on the idea of political activity inside Second Life.

  2. "I've attended a number of conferences and business meetings inside Second Life and have met interesting people from all over the world." Hmmm. I doubt that. Not that I'm calling you a liar. But as I understand it, there are no "people" in Second Life; just avatars. Perhaps our perception of what is real differs significantly.

So let's sum up.

  • Second Life is a great game (probably); but I have too much to do in real life to care. (That sounds snotty and I didn't really mean it to sound snotty.) It seems time consuming.

  • Political activity inside a virtual world seems pointless. Maybe it's a good place to do fund raising. I understand that Second Life money converts into real cash. But political persuasion seems pointless when you're talking to a space alien or a mythical creature.

  • Whatever I think about it, Gravel and Edwards both have their own campaign sites inside the virtual world of Second Life. Edwards’ site got vandalized. There's not much evidence that Gravel's people were involved - none, really, that seem credible.

  • I don't really care what happens in Second Life, except perhaps as a source of humor...
Yeah, that about sums it up.


Pollywog said...


Thanks for your comments -- and yes, that was me writing in the San Diego Business Journal. I still tend to see the funny side of things and there's plenty in Second Life! ( ) And as it turns out, I do have an account here, but I don't use it -- but I guess I do now -- so you can verify me now.

About the conferences, a few worth mentioning are the Life 2.0 Summits sponsored by Dr. Dobb's Journal and the Metanomics series by Robert Bloomfield, Professor of Accounting at Cornell University's Johnson Graduate School of Management.

Greg_Cruey said...

LOL. Your identity was never really in much doubt.

I'm sure the concept of a virtual world could become very useful, in much the way simple conference calls and video conferencing were once novel breakthroughs. I just suspect the idea will have to be separated from online gaming.

Love the picture...

Pollywog said...

Hello again, Greg --

I had a misadventure in Second Life recently that I thought you might get a kick out of. The excitement has simmered down now, but only a couple of months ago I was receiving hate postings from facist groups in France and someone even said that I never should have been born!

It all started because I wanted to write an article about machinima. So I started learning how and posted my first attempts on YouTube. I had only shown them to a few friends, and they weren't really ready for prime time because I was just messing around.

Just about this time, I received an invitation to attend an in-world press conference that Newt Gingrich was holding on Capitol Hill in Second Life. So I went and recorded the entire thing in FRAPS, a shareware video recorder. Although I'm not a Newt fan, at the same time, I wasn't there with a grudge. I was sincerely interested in hearing what he had to say.

So when I started going through the video, I was able to piece together bits and pieces of video. The problem was that many of the avatars weren't completely rezzed at any given time, so it was hard to get a good continuous piece of footage. So I pieced together what I could and added some nice, cheesy newscast music, and a long, drawn out intro with sort of a Rocky Balboa ending. It ended exactly the moment the music ended, just seconds shy of 10 minutes, which is the maximum time allowed on YouTube. I thought my masterpiece was complete!

To my amazement, it became the sensation of the week and received the YouTube Editors Pick Award in 12 countries around the world. In one week, it had over 100,000 views. Prior to that, only about 50 people had ever bothered to look at my videos. (

It wasn't that people liked it so much -- it was more like a train wreck that no one really wanted to watch, but they couldn't quite ignore. Some people posted nasty comments and even accused me of being the next Mrs. Newt Gingrich! Most people didn't seem to realize that the whole thing was tongue-in-cheek -- even Newt Gingrich apparently, who posted it on his site.

But here's the funny part. As it turns out, Newt Gingrich (or his speech writer) lifted an entire passage of his speech (which I thought was the very best part) from an article that had been published a few weeks earlier in the Weekly Standard. So Jonathan V. Last who wrote the original article, ran a copy of my video on their site as proof that the material had been lifted word-for-word from their publication. Meanwhile, Newt Gingrich was getting complaints from some of his supporters who apparently understood that the video wasn't entirely in his best interests. (I don't think they liked the way I zoomed from the Speaker's face to a John Edwards button that was strategically pinned to the bosom of a particulary voluptuous avatar.) Anyway, it really made the rounds.

My only regret is that I missed the one of the best parts, which was when the Speaker was introduced by an IBM employee, a shapely avatar named "Stephanie," who turned out to be a man. Although I have the audio with his deep voice, I didn't get good video of Stephanie. Such a missed opportunity!

I only happened to stop by your blog because I was following up on referrals to our site. I was so surprised to find Steve Nelson (Kiwini Oe) and Skyler McKinley (Astrophysicist McCallister) there, too! It was like old home week.

So that's my story about what can happen when you mix politics with Second Life -- virtually anything.

Claire (aka Pollywog Gardenvale)