Facebook and other social gaming environments have become the spot for political groups to gain false support.
For some reason, it seems that people will do absolutely anything to get free virtual currency in social games, even support legislation they wouldn’t otherwise. Anti-health care reform group “Get Health Reform Right” has been adding its own unique offers to the usual scam-tastic methods through which unsuspecting social gamers can get free currency.
Here’s how this works. A 35-year old mother of two that logs into a farming social networking game wants to buy a bigger farmhouse, but it costs virtual currency and she has none. She can either pay for that currency, or click on a bunch of offers that will plunk it into her account after she gives over her cellphone number, address, or even more personal information depending on the offer. Whatever company that runs the offer gets something it wants, the game achieves some profit, and the mother gets her virtual currency and eventually a giant headache due to the aftereffects. “Get Health Reform Right” doesn’t ask for much personal information other than name and email address, but it sends a letter to the appropriate government office from you saying that you do not support health care reform legislation.
The practice is called astroturfing (fake grass-roots campaigning) when it uses real money, so this is basically virtual astroturfing, and it is not illegal. If political groups have turned to virtual currency offers for support, there must be some serious research out there indicating that people really need to have those special items in their social games. Whether health-care reform is needed or not, this strikes me as incredibly deceptive and it surrounds a very important issue. But then, deception is what virtual currency offers are all about, particularly in the case of Zynga which was basically forced to remove them from its games.
The next time you’re playing a game on Facebook or MySpace, it would be wise to think twice about how much of your soul you’re willing to sell to own a slightly bigger virtual house. Is it worth hindering legislation you might support, or vice versa?