Second Life is at a turning point.
Second Life has been rolling down the road of ostensive libertarianism for a while now.
But recently Linden have made two significant moves: Keeping Second Life Safe, Together (daniellinden Thursday, May 31st, 2007 at 6:00 PM PDT) and Age and Identity Verification in Second Life (daniellinden Friday, May 4th, 2007 at 4:25 PM PDT with a number of clarification posts here and here).
Linden’s relationship with the notion of governance has always been vague. The front page of secondlife.com states “Join Now. Membership is free. Second Life is a 3D online digital world imagined, created and owned by its residents.” and the question has always been open, at least to some ‘resident’s, as to whether owning Second Life means that the residents are thus the only ones with any right to govern it. After all, if nothing, or at least very little in Second Life is actually owned by Linden, from where do they get the moral authority to govern the affairs of Second Life?
This is a question that we can take on many levels, all the way to arguments from cyber-exceptionalism for Second Life being a State in the international legal sense.
For the moment let’s focus on governance as a practical proposition. It’s tough. In the case of Second Life Linden has always made interventions using both the legal powers that it states that it has under the TOS and technical powers that it has by virtue of managing the servers. I’m sure the vast majority of these have not caused any more than local issues with the actors directly involved with the state of affairs.
However allegations of bad governance have ranged from badly handled in-world and forum squabbles to down right market rigging. The latter are allegations that CCP (creators of EvE) is now also facing and are probably part and parcel of running, what is seen by many, as simply an online market irrespective of how you actually run it.
But unlike conventional financial markets, spaces such as Second Life, EvE and indeed any Virtual World do not, as yet, fall under the kind of regulatory structures that aim to ensure that acts such as insider trading are kept to a minimum and actually looked for (though in the EU I would suggest that the only reason Virtual Worlds do no fall under such governance is that the EU has not as yet taken the time to look at them in the light of the e-Currency directive). This odd status also leaves those that run such worlds in a potentially vulnerable position as they have not been forced by regulation (I’m a European remember) to put in the kinds of check-balances and audits that would be required to clear their name.
With all this as general background and the more specific background of the Bragg, German pedophilia allegations and the recently reported potential case in France regarding access to Second Life by minors – it’s worth looking at Linden’s governance moves.
Now there are the specifics of the most recent move, which are at the very least open to question, here is the text in full just so you don’t have to go linking around:
Keeping Second Life Safe, Together
The diversity of things to see and do within Second Life is almost unimaginable, but our community has made it clear to us that certain types of content and activity are simply not acceptable in any form. Real-life images, avatar portrayals, and other depiction of sexual or lewd acts involving or appearing to involve children or minors; real-life images, avatar portrayals, and other depictions of sexual violence including rape, real-life images, avatar portrayals, and other depictions of extreme or graphic violence, and other broadly offensive content are never allowed or tolerated within Second Life.
Please help us to keep Second Life a safe and welcoming space by continuing to notify Linden Lab about locations in-world that are violating our Community Standards regarding broadly offensive and potentially illegal content. Our team monitors such notification 24-hours a day, seven-days a week. Individuals and groups promoting or providing such content and activities will be swiftly met with a variety of sanctions, including termination of accounts, closure of groups, removal of content, and loss of land. It’s up to all of us to make sure Second Life remains a safe and welcoming haven of creativity and social vision.
OK, first to get the quibbles out of the way.
“Safe” – I’d be interested to know exactly what, before this notice, was unsafe about Second Life according to Linden. Then further how it is now safe.
“our community has made it clear to us” - a Marxist analysis (from what I remember from lit classes) might suggest that given what’s going on at the moment the lack of any mention of negative press and potential legal cases provides us with a meaty sub-text here.
A deeper point though is this notion of community norms that is implicit in what is being said, and the related idea that such norms empower Linden to enforce them.
There are also wider points here about the notion of governance and where it derives authority, these are interesting questions, but for this post I want to keep to the middle ground of analysis and look at the logic of the text above.
From the text it seems clear that if one did a survey of Second Life residents and they said that rape of child porn that is entirely simulated (i.e. no actual children are involved in the production or consumption of the material) is fine by them, then Linden would defend these norms.
So, on this point: could Linden provide the evidence that the weight of the Second Life community is in fact against the practices.
To the world in general, can anyone point to any independent research that has been conducted on SL Residents’ attitude to the kinds of practices noted in Linden’s post, if not, could someone run a study please?
Lastly on this, can Linden confirm that if independent studies show that the community are neutral on or positive to people’s rights to practice, say, simulated Rape then they will defend and possibly promote such practices with the same resolve as they now suggest they will ban them.
The above of course follows the logic of the Linden post. But I’m not sure we should. Let’s assume for the moment that only a minority of Residents want to practice simulated Rape and that it is practiced between consenting adults where other Residents cannot be exposed to it.
What just happened to the rights of this minority?