Second Life Support Group for Hillary Clinton Becomes Support Group for Harassment Victims in Trump-Era

#SafetyPin Evangeline Ling

Earlier this week I got this interesting notice from Evangeline Ling (above), a leader of the Hillary Clinton 2016 group in Second Life:

We are launching our post-election support group appropriately named SAFETY PIN. The purpose of this group will be to provide a safe space for people negatively impacted by the election to process it and to support each other. Please join our new group and grab a LM . Please stay tuned for meeting dates, we will likely have one or two a month. Still under construction but please stop by for a visit.

Safety pins have become a symbol of support for the many victims of harassment and violence, mainly minorities, women, and other vulnerable people who've been targeted by Trump supporters after (and before) the election. (Strawberry Singh, a Muslim-American virtual world blogger, explains more here.) "Our goal is to provide a place for occasional support group meetings as well as to help people network together to find good activist/advocacy groups," Evangeline tells me.

In real life, Evangeline adds, an 80 year old friend of hers was one such victim:

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"Trump Won Because He Understood the Digital is Real" - Top Anthropologist on How to Study the President-Elect's Online Following

Screen Shot 2016-06-08 at 1.47.01 PM

"Trump won because he understood the digital is real," writes Tom Boellstorff in a provocative post on Culture Digitally, an NSF-funded blog. A Professor of Anthropology at UC Irvine and a pioneer in the study of virtual communities (the author of Coming of Age in Second Life, and full disclosure, a friend), Boellstorff argues it this way:

That’s not the only reason he succeeded, but it’s a pivotal factor and one with pivotal lessons for all of us whose scholarship, advocacy, and activism involves digital culture. I remain shocked by how many scholars counterpose the “digital” to “real life” or the “real world.” ... Opposing the digital to the real might seem useful as a way to claim relevance or tangible impact. But Trump saw that it is precisely in its reality that the digital is useful, relevant, impactful. Trump was “real” to voters when he was digital, and knew it.

Tom points in particular to Trump's supporters in the online alt-right subcommunity, from where many pro-Trump, anti-Hillary memes spread throughout social media first emerged. His advice for colleagues who want to study them?

“First, I think it’s very important to explore how what Trump’s followers are doing online is real, or not real, and how they are understanding what counts as 'real' in the first place," Tom tells me. "We see this, for instance, in debates over offensive images and memes and claims it is just a joke. What we want to avoid is assuming that because what someone is doing online means it’s not real (and on the flip side, that because what someone is doing offline means it is real)."

That includes in-person (so to speak) research:

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Mystery of the Mega-Banned Second Life User

Reddit Second Life

Fun puzzle on /SecondLife: "Lately," says /C_Ghost_Williams, "it seems everywhere everyone tries to teleport me.. I'm 'Banned' though I am not on the list or whatever." SL Redditors in the thread exhaust most of the likeliest possibilities -- no, he's not a newb, no, he's not using a Copybot-enabled viewer, no he's not on individual sim owners' banned list, etc, etc. 

Likeliest possibility is one which suggests the state of Second Life in general:

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Hair-Raising Story of Second Life Stalking Soon to Be Replicated in VR-Based Worlds

Online Second Life MMO harassment

From /SecondLife comes this incredibly disturbing story of some SLers who were ruthlessly stalked in Second Life and into the real world:

I reported this jerk, so did all her friends. He was ignored and his carbon copy accounts blocked. So he made more. Many more. He copied outfits, displaynames and profiles and would hang out at places where my friend would hang out sending nasty IM's to people calling them names, fag, tranny etc...
He used several alts to monitor the main public hangouts, we tried in vain to pattern match accounts on the region preceding everyone near by a victim getting messaged. He tracked my friend down RL and sent a message about her kids and their school. She finally folded and quit SL. He wasn't finished with me, and started using single use rezzed prims to send me scripted IM's calling me and the people around me names. These could not be blocked, every message came from a brand new object rezzed somewhere in SL. A few times we got to the objects location just as he logged off and with a lot of messages managed to get the main copy cat accounts banned from social sims. We made a blog and logged every incident and sent that to Linden Lab staff. My friend went to the police, they told her to stop using the internet.

There's a lot more to this, and it concludes with this ominous warning worth emphasizing: "There are major issues in how abuse and harassment are handled and no one at Linden Lab seems prepared to step up. Be careful what you reveal about yourself in SL because no one has your back."

Linden Lab, by the way, is hardly the only tech company struggling to deal with this variety of stalking -- Twitter, for example, is a much larger company, and after years of trying, still has profound difficulty dealing with it. Incidences like these -- or the one I reported last year, in which a woman was stalked in real life by someone who reverse image searched her SL avatar -- convince me that the next generation of VR-connected virtual worlds have a massive problem on their hands.

To be sure, many SLers report no experiences of harassment at all, and even argue that the world's architecture itself discourages such behavior:

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No Commoners Allowed in Second Life's Virtual Versailles?

So close but so distant...

There's an incredibly detailed virtual recreation of Versailles in Second Life (as I blogged last week), and someone who read about it visited the palace and was met with a vexing response by the French royalty roleplayers already ensconced there:

"I was really excited to learn about this place and couldn't wait to visit on Saturday for there grand opening," writes Bellahyae Enchanted. "It ended up falling on a special day in my family, so I asked my sister to go instead of me and we would enjoy seeing her character at the special occasion they were having. She wore a lovely stripped Baroque gown."

That's when the trouble started:

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Will Linden Lab Ban Donald Trump's Racist, Community Standards-Violating Supporters in Second Life?

SL Trum HQ Racism

I told you about the apparent Trump supporter who assaulted Bernie Sanders' fan headquarters in Second Life with Nazi swastikas, now VentureBeat's Jeff Grubb has an in-depth report on Trump's SL supporters, and to nobody's surprise, it's about as offensive as that:

I had no idea what to expect when I downloaded the Second Life launcher. It was pure chance that I clicked on that wall and ended up teleporting to a Trump HQ where a group of his supporters were going on racist tirades. But I could understand their skepticism, and I also remembered how I’m always begging vicious trolls who harass people on behalf of hate groups like Gamergate to remember that they are targeting a human being. And I kinda forced myself to listen to that plea even for some racist Trump supporters.

Jeff even captured some video of the casual racism (below, but not fun to watch). Of course, this runs in clear violation of Linden Lab's Community Service regulations:

The Community Standards sets out [behaviors], that will result in suspension or, with repeated violations, expulsion from the Second Life Community. All Second Life Community Standards apply to all areas of Second Life, the Second Life Forums, and the Second Life Website... Actions that marginalize, belittle, or defame individuals or groups inhibit the satisfying exchange of ideas and diminish the Second Life community as a whole. The use of derogatory or demeaning language or images in reference to another Resident's race, ethnicity, gender, religion, or sexual orientation is never allowed in Second Life.

As with the controversy over virtual versions of the Confederate flag last year, or the firestorm over Front National's official SL HQ in 2007, the Trump community in SL brings up an interesting tension between real world racism and virtual expressions of it. Most agree that Donald Trump expresses racist opinions and policies, but at the same time, he is also a leading candidate for President with a very large following. Despite that fact, should Linden Lab's policies ban expressions of his opinions from SL, and supporters repeating his opinions in SL -- even after he actually became President?

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Allegations of Ripping in Insilico Illustrate Challenges of IP Rights in a Mesh-Enabled User-Created World

Insilico Second Life XCOM Unknown

Longtime SL builder Ifrit Skytower has a controversial but important post alleging that many buildings in Second Life's renowned Insilico sim -- back in SL after the fraught departure of Skills Hak, the original owner-- are rips of 3D models from well-known games. Skytower's post has a host of comparison images, such as this one here, of a portal in Insilico that looks suspiciously like one from XCOM: Enemy Unknown. (One of my favorite games of all time, goddammit.)

I've twice contacted the person alleged to have made these rips, and will post their reply if I receive any. (And in the meantime, any mention of the person's name in Comments will be auto-deleted.) In any case, emphasis on "alleged", because many of the models may not be direct rips, but inspirational reference points. 

Speaking more broadly, mesh rips are fairly common in Second Life, so specific instances are generally not worth reporting. In this case, however, Insilico is one of Second Life's most well-known and admired sims, often featured in Linden Lab marketing materials of SL (including business cards.) Perhaps even more relevant, the allegations illustrate a challenge that's existed since Second Life enabled mesh-based objects. As Skytower notes:

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Insilico, Inaccessible: After Reported Permaban of Owner/Lead Creator, Second Life's Renowned Cyberpunk City Blocked from Public Access

Insilico Skills Hak Second Life

Meeting Skills Hak in 2008

Insilico, Second Life's universally acclaimed and extremely popular cyberpunk city, currently seems to be blocked from general public access. This follows an announcement last weekend from the sim's owner and lead creator, "Skills Hak", who writes that she's been permabanned after committing some unspecified abuses:

I am still not sure what exactly caused my ban... In fact, some of the stuff I did was pretty fucking bad so honestly LL is in their full right to remove me from the game. Whatever Linden employee thought it would be a good idea to kill me, Thank You. I think that the chances of finding out what’s actually happened are absurdly low so i’ll just move on. I’d much rather be happy than right any day.

Skills seems more relieved than angry to be leaving, citing a long list of past dramas she and the sim have been involved with. Moderators for the Insilico community say they are working with Linden Lab to bring Insilico back to general access. This from "Abeus" on Insilico's web portal:

I'm not too sure if I am allowed to discuss the terms of the deal. To be on the safe side I won't get into it the fine details. Just suffice to say that we've been given a period of time to hopefully recoup the losses that this lock-out has incurred for the sims. Once the transfer of ownership documents are received and completed, the sims will be reopened again (they did mention this could take a day or two, so please just a little more patience).

Linden Lab is in a very touchy place here. There's always been a boatload of drama surrounding Insilico, an exhaustive and near-impossible-to-verify list of claims and counter-claims of abuse and worse. At the same time, Insilico is also one of Second Life's most beloved, admired, and active locations, a regular subject of official Linden Lab promotion. The company even sponsored this marketing video tribute to Insilico:

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New World Notes Readers Overwhelmingly Support Sanders & Clinton - Typical Politics for Virtual World Fans?

On the eve of the New Hampshire primaries, here's the US political candidate you're most likely to support:

New World Notes RL Presidential poll

So Bernie Sanders has the most support, followed somewhat closely by Hillary Clinton -- both of whom are trailed far behind by all GOP candidates. (With Donald Trump, somewhat surprisingly to me, the most preferred Republican candidate by NWN readers!) I'm also surprised that neither of the Libertarian candidates I included in the survey, Gary Johnson and John McAfeee, rated a single vote.

Question is -- how typical are these results for fans of VR in general or Second Life in particular?

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MMO Racism: Slurs Usable as Search Terms in Both Second Life's Marketplace & In-World

Linden Lab racist terms Second Life

Second Life blogger Aemeth Lysette, who has African-American heritage in real life, recently noticed something fairly disturbing in Second Life's web-based Marketplace and in its in-world search engine: Racial slurs usable as search terms, and fairly commonly so. (See screengrab, which I'm leaving blurry for obvious reasons.)

This is also surprising, because hateful speech is explicitly banned by Linden Lab's own Community Standards:

Intolerance Combating intolerance is a cornerstone of Second Life's Community Standards. Actions that marginalize, belittle, or defame individuals or groups inhibit the satisfying exchange of ideas and diminish the Second Life community as a whole. The use of derogatory or demeaning language or images in reference to another Resident's race, ethnicity, gender, religion, or sexual orientation is never allowed in Second Life.

... and only last year, the company had a similar controversy when users discovered the racist Confederate Flag being openly sold in SL -- after which, apparently removed these items without discussing it publicly. I just double-checked you can use slurs in the Marketplace, and sad to say, I can confirm you can. 

The solution, as Aemeth writes, is pretty obvious:

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