Linden Lab Quietly Removing Confederate Battle Flag Items from Second Life Marketplace?

Second Life Confederate Battle Flag

Linden Lab still hasn't officially responded to my questions about the sale of the racist Confederate Battle Flag being sold in the Second Life Marketplace, but evidently, seems to be taking action behind the scenes. In the last couple days, searches for "Confederate Battle Flag" in the Marketplace have returned a lot less results for items based on that flag, first popularized in the South to intimidate African-Americans. Some items still exist (see below), but as you can see above, most of the top results from the SL Marketplace search are not related to the battle flag. This is consistent from reports I've received via readers on Twitter, and what Ciaran Laval recently blogged, citing an SL content creator:

According to Linden my items have been removed for “Listings for harmful or disruptive content”. They are just outfits with a flag on the chest or the back. Nothing else. Some of them have been removed for “Post, display, or transmit Content that is obscene, hateful, or racially, ethnically or otherwise objectionable”

So now there's a couple more mysteries: To start with, if Linden Lab is enforcing its Community Standards against the battle flag in Second Life, why haven't they officially and public confirmed this as policy? A chance to reaffirm the values Second Life was founded on seems like a serious missed opportunity on several fronts.

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Black Second Life User Shares Real & Virtual Experiences With the Confederate Battle Flag

Confederate Rebel Battle Flag Second Life

"It is good to see someone speak about what the Confederate flag is about, and what I, my family, and other African people have had to live with for many years," wrote SL user "bellahyae", commenting in Tuesday's post on that flag's sale in Second Life's official store, reflecting an opinion similar to that shared by many African-Americans for many years, but largely ignored until last month's atrocity

"I wish people knew how much it hurt to see the flag on TV and in places which are supposed to represent everyone in a fair manner, like court houses. I have been to places in Second Life which had the flag up." She continues: 

"We always knew what it meant. That we and others with our color are not wanted around that area. It is like putting up a 'Caucasian only' sign. I have a lot of bad memories with that flag. Like walking past homes of people who have them proudly displayed in front of their homes... while at the same time, the mean stares we got just for walking by their home. People looking at us and then spitting. Being called the N word for no reason and often out of the blue."

"Bellahyae" goes on: "I do not know its full history, but for people of my color, that flag always means one thing: You're not welcome here. With a feeling that your existence is looked down on, and the threat that they would love to have us swinging from trees by our necks again."

A number of New World Notes readers have defended the continued sale of the flag in the SL Marketplace, and she had a comment on that as well:

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Racist Confederate Flag Items Openly Sold in Second Life

Second Life Confederate Flag Marketplace

Since last week's murderous terrorist attack in Charleston by racist suspect Dylann Storm Roof, a number of corporations are finally addressing the sale of the Confederate Battle Flag, argued to be a symbol of regional pride by many of the flag's supporters, but in historical fact, created and popularized by racists as a symbol of white supremacy. Unsurprisingly, Amazon, eBay, Sears, and Walmart recently announced plans to discontinue its sale.

In Linden Lab's official Second Life Marketplace, however, virtual versions of the flag like the bikini above are still widely available. (A Google search reveals about a dozen SL Marketplace listings of the flag.) This despite the fact that Second Life's own official Community Standards prohibit public displays of intolerance in SL:

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What Happened to the Arab Community in Second Life?

Arab Community in Second Life

A reader named "MH" stopped by last Friday's open forum to ask an interesting if concerning question:

Were are the Arab Sims? After 4 years i have returned to SL to find the entire Arab community gone! What happened to Arab World & Kuwait City and the other 100 region estates? What happened to the 50,000 active daily people in those regions? Kuwait city once had the highest traffic on the grid at 190,000 per day..What happened?

If by "Kuwait City" he means this sim, it's indeed gone. Not speaking Arabic, I can't speak directly to MH's question, though NWN's top 50 sim chart used to fairly regularly include one or two Arab-themed sims, and now none are extant. Arab language speakers reading NWN, any ideas?

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WordPress' DMCA Takedown of Second Life Images Exposes Thorny, Ambiguous Issues Around Virtual IP

Wordpress Second Life content DMCA

Since blogging about WordPress removing a Second Life screenshot due to a DMCA claim yesterday, the original story as reported by Canary Beck has been deluged with dozens of comments, many by the person who filed the DMCA. A lot of them are fairly angry and uncivil, and illustrate a point which made me hesitate to even mention Canary's post in the first place: There's a tremendous amount of confusion and ambiguity around virtual IP rights, and just as much anger.

For instance, while Caitlin Tobias writes:

In this case, despite all the things that could have done better by the blogger and the creator, DMCA is abused to get pictures offline for the wrong reason. DMCA is to protect content creators, to protect intellectual property. It is not meant to be used to get pictures/images offline just because: you do not like them. No stealing happened in this case, no copyright infringement happened either.

... I'm not even sure this is actually the case, legally speaking. Since the Second Life content (in this case, a robot arm) is actually a 3D model, I believe it can be copyrighted. At the same time, that runs counter to how we deal with the real world analog. If I take a real photo of a real robot arm made by Toyota, I don't have to ask Toyota's permission. Then again, like most everyone on the Internet: IANAL. Then yet again, even the EFF's actual lawyer says Second Life copyright issues are "In some ways worse" than real life, and full of "gray interesting mysteries".

And as it turns out, the SL creator who filed the DMCA claim against the blogger claims that she has received them herself, from major companies:

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Why Prejudice Against Second Life Avatar Roleplay Exists

Second Life avatar roleplay predjudice

Kara Trapdoor has a provocative post about SL user prejudice against other Second Life users who roleplay, which somewhat ironically spins off from a Facebook thread which starts with this SLer's rant (lightly edited for grammar):

I am adult I can't roleplay a kid, I am accused or being a pedophile -- I assure you I am not. I am male and I can't roleplay female, I get accused of being gay -- I am not. I am white and I can't roleplay black, I get accused of being racist -- I am not. I can't roleplay an animal, I get accused or being weird. What do you do, roleplay yourself? Where's the fun in that? I thought Second Life was about pretending. Get an imagination.

To which Kara offers her own perspective, including this passage which makes a rather centrist argument for roleplay:

We would like others to [roleplay] how we do but of course everyone plays their own way. If I am not close to someone I don't care, but if I am close, even if they don't look or act remotely close to what they would in RL, to an extent I'd still like to be aware of that if I have formed a real bond. It doesn't mean I would give them a hard time, though. Plus there are rules about age play, just saying, so with that, I get why people would be upset. I think it depends what people are doing with their alternative forms.

Emphasis mine. TL;DL: Roleplay is fine, as long as it's always understood as roleplay.

Another commenter writes:

"SL is one place where you can experience your dreams and fantasies without being judged."

This, however, is entirely incorrect: Your fantasies and dreams will be judged in Second Life by other users -- not by all of them, not by most of them, but you will be judged, and to think otherwise is to set yourself up for shock and disappointment.

Why? Well, it's been a recurring theme in my writing through countless posts, but to summarize it here:

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If You Don't Want More Second Life Griefers, Stop Publicly Discussing Second Life Griefers

Second Life Griefers

SLers have been passing around a blog post about a recent Second Life griefer attack, which I'm not going to directly link to or even cite, for a very obvious reason: A core motivation of Second Life griefers is to get Second Life users talking about them - on blogs, on social media, on bulletin boards, on Second Life itself. The attention is their reward. (Hence the classic rule of Internet social interaction: "Don't feed the troll.")

To be clear, I'm not criticizing the blogger who did post about the griefing attack, because it's likely they don't recall or weren't around during the times when Second Life was barraged by griefers on a near daily basis:

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The Time Second Lifers Fought a French Extremist Group Beneath a Sun with the Face of Dr. Martin Luther King

Second Life Martin Luther King Day

In 2007, France's far right extremist party Front National attempted to establish an official Second Life presence, but were met with strong (albeit virtual) resistance. After the Charlie Hebdo terrorist attack by Islamic extremists, Front National is ascendant, making my story originally published here -- with its themes of extreme opinion and violence, and a symbol of hope for a better world literally floating in the sky -- once again relevant, especially on MLK day. It's republished in full below. - WJA


I'm pretty sure I know what Dr. King would think of a protest against an anti-immigrant political party, but if you asked me what he'd say after the thing devolved into a virtual conflagaration of mini-guns, cursing Frenchmen, and exploding pigs, well, there I'm somewhat at a loss.

The first night I arrived at the protest against the Second Life headquarters of Front National, the far right French political party of Jean-Marie Le Pen, it was ringed on all sides by protesters with signs to wave and statements to distribute.  By the second night I came (this was late last week), the conflict had become more literal, for many Residents had armed themselves.  Multi-colored explosions and constant gunfire shredded the air of Porcupine, a shopping island which FN had inexplicably picked for the site of their virtual world HQ, in December. 

The server lag from so many people throwing up so much gunfire slows the battle to a slow motion firefight, but I manage to wade up to TonTonCarton Yue, who is strafing the FN building with a chaingun usually associated with an AC-130 gunship, than a political protest.

"Can I ask," I begin, "why are you shooting?"
"Because I hate Front National," Yue tells me simply.
"If you use violence, doesn't that reduce you to their level?"

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Watch a Rip-Roaring Tribute Machinima to a Second Life Motorcycle Community

You watched me try to bike around Second Life with spectacular fail, now watch how it's really done:

Created by ChanAndMe C, it's actually a beautifully-edited tribute to a Second Life motorcycle community who congregate on the spectacular island of Crossing Sands (map link here), which the machinima maker recently met. As he tells me:

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Despite Second Life's Draconian Terms of Service Change, SL User Activity Growing Strongly Since Then

When I reported that Linden Lab is attempting to revise its contentious new Terms of Service, some readers complained that the company's reaction to the controversy has been so mild and slow. But there's a very good likely reason for that: Not only is there no discernible evidence that the controversy has hurt the SL economy, Second Life user activity has been growing, not shrinking, since the ToS change. Take a look at this concurrency chart from Grid Survey:

Second Life concurrency ToS

Since the ToS change in mid-August, when Linden asked users to agree that the company had rights over "all or any portion of your User Content (and derivative works thereof), for any purpose whatsoever in all formats", more people, not less, have been logging into Second Life. In fact, user activity in SL has been going upward since June/July after a long declining trend, and the ToS controversy has done nothing to substantially stop this momentum.

This doesn't mean there's been no impact, or that Linden Lab should not revise its ToS to be more fair and transparent -- in my opinion, it should -- however, it's also worth keeping this data in mind. Because having consulted for Linden Lab many years ago, I can make a educated guess at what they're thinking right now:

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