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OpEdNews Op Eds    H2'ed 7/21/11

Politicians, Crimes and Misdemeanors in Cyberspace

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I was recently interviewed by a New York reporter who was writing a piece about William F. Boyland, Jr., a four-term, 40-year old Democratic state assemblyman from Brooklyn. On March 10, 2011, Boyland was among eight individuals (including another State legislator) who "surrendered" to face charges in a federal corruption case.

Relevant to this blog, according to the reporter, months before his arrest, Boyland appears to have been playing the online game CityVille. A casual, social, city-building

simulation game on Facebook, it allows anyone, anywhere, to build their dream city from the ground up.  Sweet.

Here's the interesting little fact: Records show that after his indictment was handed down, Boyland started to play Mayor of Cityville with even more frequency. Ten, twelve times a day, there would be posts on the wall, showing he'd been doing something in the game, RATHER THAN ATTENDING ASSEMBLY SESSIONS. Oops, Gotcha!

During our email correspondence before the actual interview, the reporter wrote, "One thing I found really interesting, that I hoped you could touch on, is the relationship between the actual contours of the game, and his [Boyland's] job." She intimated that Boyland, in real life, as representative of a struggling district, has been largely ineffective.  He sponsored no bills this session, and missed more than a third of the scheduled days of the session. A check of the records supported her comments.

In CityVille, however, wearing his avatar hat, Boyland is the benevolent mayor of his own town who helps by planting flowers to earn points for beautification and helps the police in catching criminals.

She ended saying, "It seems too real life he's the bad guy, and in the game, he's the good guy catching them."

Mulling over her comments, it seemed as though effective political life was far more difficult than Boyland may have thought or was equipped to master. Several terms of struggle and failure conceivably led to disillusionment, making him open to the co-option and corruption by other corrupt New York politicians.  He wouldn't be the first.

How does this connect with Boyland's intensifying CityVille immersion and possible game addiction and, if I were being really Freudian, ritual "undoing" of his failures and the salving of his shattered ego-ideal in the world of Cityville he created?  If I were really being Freudian...


Moral: when life fails you--or you fail in life--as a politician, what do you do? Boyland's answer, tune in, drop out, start again, and follow your dream in CityVille.

There's a classic 1993 Peter Steiner New Yorker cartoon where one dog working at the computer advises another, "On the Internet no one knows you're a dog."

To paraphrase in the present political setting, On the internet nobody knows you're a failed, New York State Representative who was indicted in March on charges of corruption and of taking bribes over the course of a decade in schemes grand and petty.

Facebook, cyberspace, virtual reality. It all smacks of Rep. Weiner's pre-resignation circumstances -- living in an alternate, reality, without the sex of course;

Weiner and Boyland: Both are politicians, both are New Yorkers, both hung out in an alternate universe and promenaded in social media that afforded more gratifying self-images, be they a cute, effective, mayoral avatar or congressional stud muffin.  Different strokes..., as the say.

 Neither politicians anticipated that in real life (IRL) a bad moon would come acallin' and their careers would come a cropper, in causal or merely incidental ways.

You my remember that New York State Rep. Christopher Lee suffered a fate similar to Weiner's and resigned his upstate congressional seat after it was revealed he e-mailed a shirtless photo to a woman he met online.

Increasingly, it would seem as though the Internet, cyberspace and virtual reality are risky or questionable environments to play in for politicians who go there for some gratifications they can't satisfy in the real world, be it sex, power, political success or other drive or fantasy urges.

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Stuart Fischoff, Ph.D., is the Senior Editor of the Journal of Media Psychology (JMP). Founded in 1996, JMP was the first American journal devoted singularly to media psychology. He is an Emeritus Professor of Media Psychology at California State (more...)
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