His main political rival controls three national television networks, a newspaper, a weekly magazine and a publishing house, so an Italian minister has decided to try and level the propaganda playing field by buying himself an island in Second Life.

Antonio di Pietro, Italy's infrastructure minister, announced the purchase of the island, appropriately enough, on his personal blog.

"I have decided to open a space for Italy of Values [the party he founded seven years ago] on internet in Second Life," he wrote. "For the moment I have bought an island and planted an Italy of Values flag on it. The island will soon be equipped with offices, conference rooms and information points regarding the initiatives of Italy of Values."

"The island is called Neverland and was bought from a Japanese woman for $1,500," said Gianroberto Casaleggio, an IT specialist who has acted as a consultant to Di Pietro for the Second Life project. "Di Pietro chose the name, which is taken from the nonexistent island in 'Peter Pan'," Casaleggio said.

The island is part of the 3D virtual world created by the US company Linden Research and recently discovered as a potentially valuable mirror for real-world political activity. The two main candidates in France's presidential election race have both opened a political space in Second Life.

"Segolene Royal was the first, and was much criticised for it, but now everyone is copying her," Casaleggio said. US presidential hopeful John Edwards reportedly has an unofficial Second Life presence, thanks to a ‘resident’ who is one of his supporters.

"People confuse this with a video game, but there's nothing playful about it at all," Casaleggio said of the initiative. "The island will be used to create contact between Di Pietro and the electorate and to facilitate communication within the party."