Ren's post from the other day about Linden's recent proclamation, "Keeping Second Life Safe, Together," was both level-headed and observant. Personally, I find it hard not to be fighting mad. In the wake of a statement that I read as the promise of censorship (however empty a promise it may be), my blood begins to boil--not only as an active participant in the Second Life sex scene, but also as a sexuality researcher.
Second Life's strength--that is, what's made it so appealing for users, and therefore such a rich environment for social observation--is its freedom. This freedom creates a welcoming environment where fantasy can grow, where it can turn into community and eventually cultural practice. Where else but Second Life could we have such an extensive population of furries, or Goreans? While the real world may wag a finger of judgment at these sexual preferences, Second Life has always seemed to say, "To each his/her own." Until now, that is.
Whereas Ren focused on the larger issues of governance and majority rule that come up with "Keeping Second Life Safe, Together," I'd like to start out more simply and point to the dangerous ambiguities and/or overlooked issues in the proclamation itself.
Let's take it from the beginning. Among the activities that are "not acceptable," Daniel Linden lists, "real-life images, avatar portrayals, and other depiction of sexual or lewd acts involving or appearing to involve children or minors." Okay, obviously any actual child pornography circulating in Second Life (i.e. porn that involves real-life minors) is illegal and should be dealt with accordingly. But then there's the issue of whether virtual child porn (porn that involves only renderings of children) is even illegal in America. And then there's the even bigger issue of age play--where consenting adults pretend to be children.
Next we've got the clause about "sexual violence" and rape. Yet again, we're in confusing territory. There's consentual rape and violent sex in Second Life (think Gor, BDSM, etc.). Whether there's much non-consentual violence is still up for debate, though. Cyber rape does happen, but in Second Life it's pretty hard. Granted, there has been a lot of media buzz around the topic lately. But even in the most infamous cases, no one seems to be sure how the rapes took place.
Last, we've got the most frightening clause of all: "other broadly offensive content [is] never allowed or tolerated." What exactly do we define as offensive content? To whom is it offensive? For me, that reads like an open door for sexual censorship...
Of course, there's always the possibility that Linden Labs don't actually stand behind their proclamation, or intend to back it up--that is was all done to appease the raging press. Still, the real test will be how the Second Life communities themselves respond. Will BDSMers wield their whips in fear? Will Goreans start wearing normal clothes and dominating their slaves in private? Or will everything in Second Life stay the same? I'll be sure to report back once I know more...