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Hillary Clinton is one of the frontrunners for the Democrat nomination for President in 2008 and if her virtual campaign headquarters in Second Life are anything to go by, every effort is being expended by Clinton supporters to maximise the vote.

I caught up with the chairperson of Hillary’s virtual HQ, an educational technology director, Democrat member and mother of three from Arkansas. She wasn’t happy to provide her real name publicly, preferring that I stick to her Second Life name of Padlurowncanoe Dibou – I’ll call her PD for short.

When I quizzed PD on the links between the virtual campaign presence and the real life one, it became apparent that although there was no formal endorsement by the Clinton team, there was certainly regular contact and information sharing.

Like the other Presidential candidate presences in Second Life, there appears to be some significant hedging of bets by the candidates. There’s a fear that not having a Second Life presence will put a campaign behind the eight-ball yet some reluctance to commit formally for fear of being perceived as desperate or crackpot.

PD claims the dominance of Democrat over Republican in Second Life is due to the inherently progressive nature of Democrats, but neither side has entered boots and all, instead relying on grass roots development.

According to PD, there are some big gains to be made through virtual world campaigning. You have the ability to engage the public in a way that’s non-threatening yet much more immersive. The Clinton HQ has already hosted a number of debates and functions that have allowed for lengthy debate on key issues like health.

Participants have relative anonymity to debate their views without fear of ridicule and the knowledge those views are likely to be kept for perusal by the campaign team. PD is confident that when the Democrat primaries are complete, the unsuccessful candidates will get behind the successful Second Life presence to make it a key part of internet-based campaigning for the 2008 election.

She’s also confident the likes of Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama will make their Second Life appearance between now and election day. With the continuing growth in interest and active use of Second Life, the point at which critical mass is reached from a campaigning viewpoint isn’t far off. The 2008 campaign is likely to be the experiment and 2012 the real test of virtual world campaigning.

On the Australian front, the silence from the Government and Opposition Communications portfolio in response to our enquiry on virtual world campaigning has been deafening. Perhaps the minor parties will need to be the pioneers that drag the others into the 21st Century?

Peter Fray

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