The final panel I attended at the social web and networked political protests conference included interesting case studies on Carrotmob, Anonymous and Second Life.
Professor Caja Thimm gave a fascinating presentation on avatars in politics. Caja is particularly interested in studying Second Life (SL) as a new political platform:
Various politicans have their personal look alike avatars, from the French presidential candidate Le Pen to the presidentials hopeful Barack Obama. Various states (States of Hungary, Sweden ) run their virtual embassies to attract cyber visitors. SL is not only a place for political marketing or political campaining, it is also starting to function as a plattform for political activism. Avatars engage in demonstrations, in protestmarches, human chaines and smart mobs. Causes are many: for human rights in Burma, against the right wing French Le Pen, against nuclear energy, against the G8 summit and more. Recently, rising problems of a virtual society have become an issue. Sexual assualts, child pornography or vandalism call for political actions by the SL Residents on various levels.
Caja’s research focuses on how avatars and their human counterparts try to organize and (perhaps) democratize their newly created world. I find this a truly fascinating research topic and can’t wait to read Caja’s upcoming book on the subject. We happened to take the same train back to Frankfurt after the conference and it was interesting to hear some of the reactions she has had vis-a-vis this research topic. Only younger scholars seem to “get it”, others just miss the point entirely.
This raises another issue, or rather concern, that struck me while at the two-day conference. Here we are, the vast majority of us scholars, talking about the social web as experts, and yet only a tiny fraction of us at the conference actually have a blog. Of the sixty-or-so participants, three are on Twitter. Fewer still have avatars or a YouTube account. It is incredibly important that we actually use these social web tools if we want to study them. My understanding of blogs, their power, their network-effect and their negative side has completely and utterly changed after I started to blog. The same goes with Twitter. Which is why I went on Second Life this morning and created my first avatar.
Mundo Yang presented his very interesting research on Anonymous. Mundo’s paper, entitled “Bringing ‘A for Anonymous’ and Public Sphere Together” is available here (PDF).
It’s often said that you vote with your dollars, and what you buy sends signals to companies. But what if, rather then as individuals supporting businesses we like, or boycotting them en masse, we as a crowd were harnessed to financially reward companies that make the most change, as compared to other companies competing for the honor? What if we dropped the stick, and put out a carrot, that carrot being that you will have a “Carrot Mob” descend on your store and make a point of buying from you on a specified date, and perhaps even ongoing? That, I imagine, would be quite the motivation for a business to extend itself to make the effort to change or improve how they do business, generating immediate financial returns, positive press, and longer term goodwill from consumers (source).
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