So to sum up (because a lot has happened since then), here was the deal:
Few months ago, a guy I called "Jedidiah Profane" started slapping giant, obtrusive, ugly-ass "SUPPORT OUR TROOPS: IMPEACH BUSH" billboards on hundreds of plots all over Second Life. And if you wanted to get rid of one, you had to buy the land it was displayed on at astronomical rates.
Residents cried "extortion", and unleashed hell on the official Forums. To make sure this high degree of umbrage was reflective of the population at large, I conducted an in-world survey-- and indeed, 70% of the Residents polled knew about them, and hated them, too.
Here is what Linden Lab policy enforcers did: nothing. (Other than delete a few which overhung into other private property.)
Here is what Linden Lab CEO Philip Linden told me last month, when I told him about the 70% seething over the "Impeach Bush" billboads:
"We think very long-term about Second Life, about what it can become," he said by e-mail. "So although many people doubtless find billboards with political opinions unappealing, we are convinced that to grow to really reach huge numbers of people all over the world, Second Life will have to preserve a free and open environment..." If the Residents were hoping for help from on high (and many of them clamored to have Profane summarily ejected from Second Life), they'd be disappointed.
And here is what they did, in response to Jedidiah Profane's campaign, and Linden Lab's inaction:
Oh, there was a response. It just came sporadically, some of it so ironically self-aware as to almost defeat the purpose (if the purpose was protest.) Like a virtual world member of the BLF, Blaze Columbia started giving away billboards to place next to Profane's billboards, offering charming, message- jamming slogans like, "SUPPORT OUR POOPS: USE A BUSH". Mikey Dripp went him one better by converting his avatar into an anti-Bush billboard, and began flying over official Linden Lab territory in SL. They wouldn't remove the billboards, well, he'd bring the billboards to them, flying over Governor Linden's city hall, or hovering above Pathfinder Linden's office.
Because there were upwards of 80 Forum threads complaining about the Resident who came to be known as "the Impeach Bush guy", I put out an announcement in the same space, asking for specific, concrete actions Residents had actually taken in response-- besides creating threads complaining about him.
There weren't many. A few said they refused to buy land, or had downgraded their account, or made other silent protests against the situation.
Widespread collective action, however, was not in much evidence.
Noted gadfly Prokofy Neva, for example, launched a petition drive, gathering names from the 125,000+ Residents to present to Philip Linden, demanding change. After several weeks, it had garnered all of 36 signatures.
Linden Lab maintains a voting system which allows Residents to campaign for specific upgrades and additions to the next version of Second Life. There were at least two proposals that would directly and elegantly address the "impeach Bush" conundrum in a way that wouldn't impinge on free expression. Persig Phaeton's proposition would enable Residents to create a "blacklist" of individuals whose creations they didn't want to see; Chris Wilde's proposition suggested a similar solution, except you'd just pinpoint parts of the surrounding land you didn't want displayed. Instead of having to look at obtrusive political messages-- or anything else you deemed obnoxious, for that matter-- both Phaeton and Wilde proposed a world where you would filter out whole chunks of reality, according to personal preference. (In that regard, it was similar to an anecdote from Lawrence Lessig's groundbreaking Code-- though ironically, while the "Impeach Bush guy" controversy was reaching its apex in Second Life, Lessig himself appeared in-world, and when I asked him about the code-driven solution offered in his book, he was hesitant, wondering aloud if a societal solution was preferable.)
In any case, Pheton's proposal garnered 72 voters; Wilde's, 94. (By contrast, the leading proposal is to introduce Havok 2 physics into Second Life; it's backed by 725 Residents.)
The purpose of pointing this out isn't to denigrate these efforts, but one can't help noticing how un-collective they all were. Where once Linden Lab's ancient policy of taxing Residents garnered a revolt that seemed to sweep up the entire population (and this when total subscriber base was scarce a few thousand), now a genuinely pervasive annoyance couldn't garner the backing of even one percent of the public.
And here is what happened, after all that: the controversy went away.
A month or so after it happened, few speak about the "impeach Bush guy" in the Forums anymore. The signs of Jedidiah Profane still pepper the world, but they're much harder to find. The world keep growing, new Residents keep joining, and in that crush, Profane's political campaign or his extortion scheme or whatever it was supposed to be has disappeared in the continual stream of new content. You may need to scroll through several pages of land listings to find his "Impeach Bush" plots now. And in the end, the controversy waned not from any action by Linden Lab or Residents heroically acting in concert. In the end, it was overwhelmed by the sheer momentum of perpetual creation.
I've asked "Jedidiah Profane" for his perspective on what, if anything, he thinks he ultimately accomplished; I'll post any reply I get here. But from my own point of view, he has accomplished something valuable, though perhaps not what he had in mind.
For what would happen if Profane's signs had said instead, for example, "Buy Cialis on the Web!" or "Eat at McDonalds!", or any number of other real world advertisements or statements that most Residents would consider noxious 3D Spam? Surely the same thing: a flurry of outrage, scattershot protest, and after the initial storm, nothing.
Early on, I had thought that Residents would resist the intrusion of real life ads and other forms of commerce into Second Life, collectively rising up against any intrusion that impeded the purity of their grass roots imagination. But considering the story of Jedidiah Profane, I now think that was naive. That isn't the kind of utopia we're dealing with here. At best, we are left with the hyper-utopia dreamed up by libertarian philosopher Robert Nozick: not a single version of the good society, but a multitude of visions, defined and demarcated by private property-- sometimes a socialist collective, sometimes a walled-in compound for conflict-loving gun owners, sometimes a severe paradise of submission and domination.
And for the most part, a rough-and-tumble world of conspicuous wealth, endless shopping, and parties that never end, interrupted only now and again by giant blue cubes of obnoxious free speech that occasionally appear on the horizon.
Update, March 6, 4:59am SLT:
Just got a series of e-mails from "Jedidiah Profane". Asked what he thinks his campaign acheived, he said this: "Accomplished: generated a buzz, got lots of people thinking, met many interesting people from different sides of these issues, and got the Lindens to come out with an oppinion, in public, stating that tolerance and freedom of expression are important for a society like SL to exist and thrive." (Citing Linden Lab's last newsletter on this point.)
"I still get a charge out of people calling it the 'Impeach Bush' thing," he adds. "No mention of 'Supporting Our Troops,' 'Restoring US Credibility,' or 'End the War' concepts at all."
Update, March 6, 12:41pm SLT: Claude Desmoulins just passed along a link to the current website to Neualtenburg, the "nonprofit cooperative and self-governed community" modeled after a Bavarian mountain town.