Venezuelan protests: blurring the line between 'real' and 'virtual'

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by: Dominic Basulto

The ongoing story about "virtual demonstrations" in Second Life by Venezuelan dissidents illustrates the various ways that our collective notions of "real life" and "virtual life" are blurring together. rring together.

Are virtual protesters the same as real protesters? Can a "peaceful" demonstration that takes place in Second Life still be labeled as "violent" by the minions of Venezuelan strongman Hugo Chavez? Is a "virtual Venezuela" bound by the same laws as a "real" Venezuela? Knowing the possible consequences of their actions, tech-savvy protesters decided to organize online in a virtual Venezuela:

"In parallel with protests in Caracas, avatars of real Venezuelans protest Chavez's closing of a major TV station… Some suggest a CIA conspiracy behind the scenes, implying that the Venezuelan protest in general is virtual.  In response, actual Venezuelans show up, and explain their point of view.  A metaverse protest over a real world event, in other words, has provoked a debate over how real the event itself is."

Here's the full story of how Venezuelan protests migrated from the real world to the virtual world:

"Residents from Venezuela gathered Sunday in Moshi Park, protesting President Hugo Chavez's abrupt closing of RCTV, a television station controlled by his opposition. That move has provoked outrage on the streets of Venezuela, followed by a forceful response from Chavez' government. All that in mind, it seemed strange to hold a rally in a virtual world, and I put that question to Shinya Tandino, a leader in Second Life's "RCTV Libertad expresion VENEZUELA" group.

Her explanation was unique: by holding it in Second Life, there was no way for Chavez's regime to label it as violent. "[T]he protest in my country are peaceful," Shinya argues, "but the government will say the opposite… we need and we want other ways that let us raise our voice in a peaceful way."

As it happens, she is a Venezuelan now outside her homeland, but was recently there, protesting in streets where the violence is all too real. "I know how it feels when you are there and you feel alone," she tells me, "and that the rest of the world see us, but can't do much for us.  But when they show support or do protest, [it gives] more energy to the people from Venezuela."  Many who joined her in the march are still based in the country, however, and so the protest also became a place for Venezuelans divided by geography to come together– and for those inside the country to share their eyewitness accounts."

Stay tuned — with the recent uproar of Kremlin-financed cyber-attacks against targets in Estonia, the constant rumors of potential Chinese cyberspace attacks against the U.S., and now this cyberspace showdown between the people of Venezuela and the government of Venezuela, have we reached a new era in the way that national political disputes are settled?

[image: Venezuelan protests]

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