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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Most Second Life Users Self-Identify as Roleplayers & Other MMO Game Types -- Very Few as Educators

Second Life roleplayers

Canary Beck has a very interesting survey of over 3000 Second Life users (one the biggest data samples I've ever seen), asking them to describe their main activities in SL, and whether they recommend Second Life to others. Respondents could choose three categories, and by far, the largest preferences were Roleplayers, Socializers, and Explorers. These are very familiar and core types of activities in most other MMOs, while other top preferences like Decorator, Fashionista, Creator, and Photographer are very much consonant with activities in sandbox-type games like The Sims franchise and Minecraft.

Just as notably, "Educator" was among the very least designated categories. Taken together, this should finally put to bed a long-running controversy among the SL user community and Linden Lab itself: "Is Second Life a game?" As I've argued before, most people who use Second Life use it for game-like activities or explicitly play it as a game, and this survey data seems consistent with that. 

So why do so many SLers insist Second Life isn't a game? More key, why does Linden Lab keep insisting that, even saying so on national television? Canary's survey provides a strong hint of that too:

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Why Second Life Has So Little Ambient Soundscapes

Voice Meeting

This is an interesting /SecondLife thread on the comparably small market for user-created audio samples, which includes this great analysis from "gothicmuse":

Soundscape is one of the most neglected aspects of environment design in SL. Partly due to platform and scripting limitations and partly because anecdotally many people seem to mute them or to play music and so miss them that way. The main barriers are the falloff distance being very sharp for some sounds - people can't hear them unless they are up close or the volume is set very loud, a persistent bug that prevents sounds from reliable playing for all listeners and the difficulty of making longer loops with enough variation not to sound odd or annoying. Sound becomes a secondary aspect to the design, much like lighting, when your expertise lies elsewhere and you are pretty sure many of your audience will not experience it at all or will experience it badly.

This sounding on sound sounds right. (See what I did there?) Overwhelmingly, the soundscape of Second Life is streaming music and voice chat, neither of which contribute much to immersion (and in fact, tends to mar it).

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Does Second Life Really Have a "Community"?

SL6b

In the very chatty conversation over Friday's post, "The Second Life Community Should Lead the New Virtual Reality Wave, Not Follow It" sirhc deSantis makes an interesting and provocative point:

These continual references to the 'Second Life Community' rankle me. With my 9th rez day at the end of this year I have yet to stumble over this mythical beast. Been involved in communities (plural) over the years made up of people with shared interests (of many kinds) but never met this all encompassing one.

As the word is mostly used as marketing speak to mean 'people who buy/use our stuff we want to make feel involved in a more or less touchy feely way so they buy/use more stuff and act as an unpaid evangelical force' I may be a trifle jaded.

The only thing users of SL have in common is that they use SL. Does that make it a 'community'? In the same way as a FaceBook 'community'?

Fair couple of closing questions. As I've noted before, less than 30,000 people typically attend Second Life's annual birthday celebration, which leads me to conclude that there are few SLers who have a deep affinity with SL as a unified virtual community, and more who are just interested in going to their favorite nightclub or roleplaying sim or whatever sub-community they're affiliated with.

In a follow-up comment to his post that started my Friday post, Maxwell Graf makes a good defense of the community concept:

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