Friday, September 2, 2011
Justice for all in Second Life?
Some disturbing revelations have surfaced recently regarding a "citizen watch group" in Second Life called Justice League Unlimited, which allegedly has been collecting the personal, real life information of SL residents they view as "griefers."
You may have seen them before patrolling the grid -- specifically, public sandboxes -- wearing superhero costumes. If you'd like to read more about their alleged activities, a summary thread is available at SL Universe, as is the massive 300+ page originating thread. Additional coverage can be found at the Alphaville Herald and Search Engine Watch.
Among the allegations leveled is that the JLU has a private wiki which contains intelligence on residents -- from both their "First Life" as well as their Second Life -- who may or may not be members of griefer groups. The "private," "secure" wiki has been compromised at least twice, mostly recently last month -- it remains unclear whether the wiki was hacked externally, or if there was a mole within the group itself that leaked the information.
I am writing about this issue now because as an SL resident of three and a half years, I'd never really heard of this group until recently. And I am concerned about the consequences of the JLU's actions.
Now I have fortunately only been the target of griefing, or the witness to griefing, a few times during my Second Life experience.
In each instance, I used the tools which Linden Lab provides residents to report abusive behavior of other residents -- whether that be the official LL Abuse Report system, requesting the assistance of Estate Managers on private sims, banning people from my parcels, or simply muting them.
And each time I have had no further problems with the resident or any objects created by that resident.
But apparently this is not a typical resident experience -- at least according to anti-griefing groups like the JLU. No, according to them, as SL residents we are all in serious danger of being stalked and harassed by nefarious griefer groups who reside in Second Life solely to make us all miserable.
Let me back up for a moment and be clear: I don't condone the serial harassment and stalking of SL residents, including "outing" the alts of SL residents, creating alts to further harass specific residents and circumventing account bans, or breaching SL resident privacy by publicly connecting their real life identity to their SL identity -- which, BTW, are all against SL Terms of Service. (More on that later).
But "griefing," as subjectively defined by the JLU, is a pretty broad spectrum of objectionable behaviors -- even something as simple as disagreeing with them (which for U.S. citizens, is a First Amendment right) -- in fact, by my writing this, I'm very likely now listed in their logs as a griefer, if you can believe that.
My definition of griefing is obviously far removed from the JLUs: When residents are purposely disrupting the livelihood of SL merchants and land owners, that's griefing -- oh, except most people call that copybotting, not griefing, which is a far greater disruption to the grid than self-replicating penises.
Before all this information became public, I probably would have welcomed a group that was devoting time reporting copybotting to merchants and to Linden Lab.
So why doesn't the JLU monitor alleged instances of copybotting? That would be a far greater service to the SL community. That absence of concern would seem to speak to the collective mindset of the group's membership... their "policing" methods are more closely aligned with those of totalitarian regimes than it is a selfless effort at true community service.
Obviously residents desire and deserve security on the grid. But it is simply not the job of any "citizen watch group" to be policing the grid. That should be LL's job.
While there is disagreement as to whether LL may or may not be providing adequate tools or support for some residents to protect themselves from abuse, that isn't tacit permission for any resident, or resident group, to be monitoring and reporting the activities of other residents.
There is also disagreement, however, as to whether Linden Lab is aware of -- or condones -- the activities of the JLU, and others. There is no longer an LL staffed Governance group, and this group's leadership claims they have several individual Lindens who are sympathetic to their cause. But I highly doubt the Lab would approve of a private resident group collecting the real life medical information of its residents. Or would they?
Obviously residents desire and deserve security on the grid. But for LL to potentially give what essentially amounts to a vigilante group free reign to enforce LL's Terms of Service is just wrongheaded. And dangerous -- considering they are using the exact same TOS violating tactics as the people they allege to be "protecting" us from. Tactics which are the very legal definition of cyberstalking.
I am glad to see that "stakeholders" -- merchants and landowners -- are slowly beginning to speak out about this. The more major landowners and merchants who stand up and publicly voice their concerns -- the people who pay the electricity bills on LL's Battery Street building in downtown San Francisco -- the better chance the Lab will sit up and listen.
It would also put to rest the (erroneous) claim that anyone disagreeing with the JLU's mission must be a griefer, or a griefer sympathizer. That couldn't be further from the truth.
Whether you or a merchant or land owner or just an "average resident," I urge you to express your feelings to Linden Lab CEO Rodvik Linden about this situation.