Let me start by saying that I am all for advocacy groups using virtual worlds to promote their causes. Virtual environments like Second Life are the newest forms of "new media" and as such should be certainly considered for use in political and awareness-raising campaigns. That said, I HATE the big billboard that the World Development Movement has put up on the Warmouth sim in Second Life. It’s ugly, it’s negative and it doesn’t mobilize. (Thanks the Tateru for the heads up in the SL Insider.)
The billboard says in stark black letters "DON’T FORGET THE REAL WORLD." As you get closer to it, some script calls up a statistic of how many children have died from poverty since Second Life has been running. Apparently that number is up to 36,224,397 kids when I dropped in this morning. A computer nearby takes you to the WDM website when you click it. And that’s it.
The billboard is labeled at the bottom the "Global Poverty Death Counter" and is backed by a bloody red stain. Nice. They might as well have called it :
This is all very unfortunate since the World Development Movement, a United Kingdom-based advocacy group, has been responsible for a number of clever and influencial campaigns, notably the "Make Poverty History" campaign which as I understand was a huge success in the UK at getting folks to pay attention to global poverty issues.
What is ironic is that the WDM has not learned to apply what they presumably have learned from their other campaigns into virtual space. Namely that it isn’t enough just to shame people. "Don’t forget the real world" contains such a superior, pejorative tone. I.e. "Hey, idiot, get your head out of the digital sand and pay attention to things that matter."
And the WDW billboard gives a virtually useless statistic: children who have died of poverty since Second Life started running. What does this mean? Was Second Life responsible for these deaths? If we weren’t plugged into Second Life, would more kids be alive? It’s all so opaque the thinly veiled blaming.
They should take a tip from their own past work if they really want to meaningful engage in virtual activism:
- Get to know the community first. The Stand Up against Poverty folks hired a real in-world designer Aimmee Weber to handle their in-world campaign. She was able to tell them how to effectively get people energized about their project.
- Educate: Who are all these dead children? Who killed them? Corrupt governments? The World Bank? Multinational corporations?
- Mobilize: Give people something to do. And not just fundraise. Oh there’s a tip-jar nearby. Big freakin deal. Find ways to connect people to real efforts to save children’s lives. Script a device that will connect people to real world efforts to provide clean water, jobs, education, access to technology, etc.
- Provide Hope: A statistic about a lot of dead children just fills you with dread and sadness. No one gets mobilized with that. You have to provide hope that it’s actually possible to end grinding poverty so people can feel good about doing their part.
I will try and contact whoever is responsible and see what their in-world plans are. If it’s just to shame avatars, they should save their sim rental fees. If they want to do virtual activism right, I’m happy to connect them with folks doing cool stuff in Second Life like In Kenzo at Camp Darfur and Barry at Global Kids.