Virtual Democracy

Writing from Atlanta, Ga.:

Eric Reuters reported on Thursday about LiveJournal’s decision to hold an election in the community at large for two seats to its advisory board:

Election winners will participate in quarterly conference calls with executives from Russian media company SUP, which owns LiveJournal, and be flown to an annual meeting in Istanbul to discuss issues relating to LiveJournal’s administration.

LiveJournal’s democratic elections of user representatives closely parallels recent elections in CCP’s EVE Online, in what may be a growing trend among new media companies with loyal but contentious user bases.

This started me thinking in my spare moments about the spread of virtual democracy. It appears to be a trend that has much support; even the Russian-owned LiveJournal is embracing the concept to a degree. As for Second Life, we have the well-known example of the Confederation of Democratic Simulators (better known as Neufreistadt), (Wikia, blog). The CDS is one of the longest ongoing projects on the Grid, with a reasonably successful representative government elected every six months, three working parties, and a good participation from many of the Residents. I featured a photo of the last swearing in of the CDS’ Representative Assembly in Contact Sheet, with the well-known Gwyneth Llewelyn administering the oaths as Dean of the Scientific Council.

Slightly less free, but still quite democratic, are the regions of the Independent State of Caledon. Government here is more by mutual consent to being governed under the benign despotism of the sims’ owner, His Excellency Desmond Shang, the “Guvnah.” Being the owner of the many regions that comprise Caledon, what happens here is basically what Des allows to happen; but he is also an easygoing and much-loved tyrant, and all his rules are embraced by the neo-Victorian Residents [1]. On a parallel might be Steelhead (Caledon wiki, newspaper), which is owned by Kattrynn Severine, but managed by three others and advised by four councilors.

These and other examples show that self-government in a virtual world is possible. The one difficulty that cannot be overcome, however, is that of the overarching dictatorship. In other words, the Host Company! Whether it’s Second Life, There, World of Warcraft or LiveJournal, someone owns the host computers that the software runs on, and they make the rules in the end. The only control we have over them is economic support, by choosing to continue or not continue our accounts with them; and if they lose enough subscribers, the servers will be shut down along with the “countries.” (So far, there has been enough support to keep the owners firmly “in power.”)

Second Life at least allows the nascent micro-nations to continue, only asking that Residents observe the policy decisions made by Linden Lab. There’s no sign that this will change in the future — but remember the truth of the situation that you live in.

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[1.] Emissaries from other sims have other ideas, but Guvnah has an ace up his sleeve in the form of the Gun Bunnies, his elite bodyguard. They have foiled at least one assassination attempt during the war with Neualtenburg.

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