Thursday, January 07, 2010

Farmed Out

In "Citizens of Farmville, petition your (real) representatives!" the blog for Jonathan Zittrain's The Future of the Internet (and How to Stop It) explains how a Facebook game is tricking players into lobbying against the healthcare bill by luring them to complete online surveys in exchange for game currency that can be used to buy virtual goods. A fake grassroots reform group called funded by the insurance industry is apparently sponsoring an astroturfing effort where constituents are "paid" in virtual money for petitioning their elected representatives. The Business Insider discovered that the group's e-mail address didn't work, which made the likelihood of a false front seem even greater.

(The company involved in the game, Zynga, has also come under fire for privacy abuses. Journalist Julian Dibbell own farm in Farmville, shown above, is clearly intended to mock the corporate parent of this popular Facebook game.)

This case actually raises questions about future legal issues. The current Supreme Court has been likely to interpret spending money on political causes as a form of free expression or political speech, so the spending of virtual currency would likely be similarly allowed. This legal approach to policy making has continued to scuttle election reform, but maybe reformers could start with virtual money and move on to the real thing.

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