How Far Will It Go? (Virtual Censorship)

Linden Lab recently announced a post about keeping Second Life safe, and solicits help from the community to help prevent broadly offensive and illegal content in Second Life. While some are proud and happy to see this “moral stance” be taken by Linden Lab, it does draw some lines for concern. There are some who feel that BDSM or sexual relations with furries are morally offensive or offensive and may begin to report those and push for such depictions to also be removed. Who knows if it will happen but Linden Lab has opened the door for this sort of conversation.

In my opinion, I feel Linden Lab is reacting to media and governmental pressures brought upon them (I don’t blame them entirely for it). The U.S. Government took a look at gambling in Second Life and a few days later they made an announcement halting all classifieds and events that contained the word “Casino” or was related to gambling. An issue with the media and age play occurs, the Linden’s produce a statement concerning age play and how it is not acceptable to their terms of service. My fear is what happens then the line comes across language, or music, or something that may be deemed offensive (say explicit Hip-Hop music) by one group but not by another. It may not be broadly offensive but would it be offensive enough that it would cause Linden Lab to react?

Imagine if you will the recent Don Imus controversy happens in Second Life, what then? In the case of Don Imus in the real world some people really defended him and his position and did not feel that his comments about the Temple Girls Basketball Team were not offensive at all, another group felt (as I do) that his comments were racist. Imagine that case being played out in Second Life, the consequences of something like that would set the tone for a lot of things in Second Life. Another example that would run along similar lines would be having the Confederate or the Nazi Swastika (as the Swastika is not originally from Germany, but from Asia, see Wikipedia) placed somewhere on their land. Both these items are very racist, divisive symbols to certain groups.

While virtual, Second Life is so real and so tangible; it is almost its own country. One of the issues is that Second Life has the benefits of not experiencing Revolutionary Wars, Civil Wars, World Wars, and it probably will not. The United States has undergone several historic moments that have produced the United States Constitution, a Bill of Rights and definition of a person’s civil rights. Second Life has not. While this announcement is a good thing, it is also a bad thing. Reports of “offense” material from different groups will arise. Someone will take a BDSM club as offensive while another person would take it not to be. Someone may take the Confederate Flag as offensive and someone may not. These things are issues that The Lindens will have to deal with along with the same questions that get asked when discussing the U.S. Patriot Act. I feel that several things have to happen; it would be nice to know the exact procedure that happens when a piece of material is deemed offensive. Is that a conversation? Is there an appeal process? How lenient are the Linden’s going to be? I also feel that rather leaving the issue up to just Linden Lab, guidelines needs to be outlined. A Bill of Virtual Rights to ensure the basic freedom of speech and unalienable rights that most people would feel are needed for such a thing. The problem with this is you would need a government, laws, cops, the list goes on. This also comes into play as the Terms of Service is being tested in the recent ruling of Bragg vs. Linden Lab case).

The doors that these issues are presenting are huge and lead to very real, large questions and consequences. Some people will always attempt to cheat the system or to do something questionable because they could either get away with it, or file a lawsuit. But these things bring into question the limits of the freedom of speech, and the “rights” of Second Life residents or a virtual avatar.