The latest bombshell dropped on the Grand Unified Linden Blog by Daniel Linden seems to indicate a crackdown in the making:
The diversity of things to see and do within Second Life is almost unimaginable, but our community has made it clear to us that certain types of content and activity are simply not acceptable in any form. Real-life images, avatar portrayals, and other depiction of sexual or lewd acts involving or appearing to involve children or minors; real-life images, avatar portrayals, and other depictions of sexual violence including rape, real-life images, avatar portrayals, and other depictions of extreme or graphic violence, and other broadly offensive content are never allowed or tolerated within Second Life.
The post goes on to encourage Residents who see such examples of “broadly offensive” content to report it.
And the hue and cry has started from multiple quarters. Jacek, for instance, opines:
Gone are the days of “combating intolerance”. The new fashion is to embrace and revel in it.
It seems that it is no longer a violation of privacy to spy on your neighbors and report them if they are having kinky sex in their own skybox 700m above the ground. Far from it, such snooping is now a civic duty, as Daniel Linden indicates in his twisted call for Residents to make Second Life a “welcoming space” by shunning anyone they disagree with […]
We can come only to the somber conclusion that Second Life is no longer the bastion of liberty and free expression that it once was.
Tateru, reporting at Second Life Insider, isn’t quite as apocalyptic in her tone, but emphasizes the ambiguity of the situation:
You might wonder what Broadly Offensive actually means. Lord knows, everyone else does.
Linden Lab has previously clarified that broadly offensive largely consists of what a lot of people complain about being offended by. I’m moved to wonder if that includes Goreans, Furries, BDSMers and Gays – all groups that we are inclusive of as an overall culture in Second Life, but which many dozens, hundreds or thousands of individual people can and do find offensive (more’s the pity).
How broad is broadly? A hundred complaints? Two hundred? A thousand? Ten thousand? A television documentary? Front page of the New York Times?
There’s also a note about potentially illegal behaviour. What sort of illegality? Illegal where? Do I need to go shop for a Burqa, avoid saying anything that might be interpreted as critical of certain governments, and report any of my married, homosexual Second Life friends?
I am afraid that this statement from Linden Lab overall is at best unhelpful, and for the most part fails to answer any questions, and raises many more.
This is a crucial point. “Broadly offensive” by whose standards? I would assume the standards of San Francisco, being the home base of LL, but someone in Saudi Arabia or Singapore might not agree with me.
But this is sort of beside the point; I’m more interested in knowing one thing: What is motivating LL to crack down like this at this point?
As the title of this piece indicates, I think it’s a reflection of the only universal corporate policy in the world: “In case of trouble, cover your ass.”
You may recall that LL has had to deal with German authorities in the recent past regarding allegations of child pornography in SL. They’ve also, no doubt, seen what’s been going on over at MySpace, and the backlash they faced as a result. This announcement feels like a “preemptive strike” by LL to try and demonstrate that they’re keeping a firm grip on things that might pose legal problems–and perhaps keep the RL politicians, law enforcement agencies, and bluenoses from imposing their standards on SL.
If that happens, I guarantee you, as little as the libertines of SL culture like LL’s new restrictive tone, they’d like the resulting situation even less. There’s no way to predict how far politicians would go in regulation of SL and other similar virtual environments…particularly if they felt they could win votes by doing so. (Remember: All politicians really care about, no matter what they say, is getting elected, then getting re-elected.) If one considers that some sharp lawyer might see a way to blame LL for the conduct of Residents, the situation becomes even more dire, and LL badly needs an “affirmative defense” to those allegations. Will this act as one? I don’t kn0w, but it certainly looks better than if LL sat by and did nothing.
Of course, the Law of Unintended Consequences is at work here too, and Sarah Nerd explains how LL’s good intentions could play right into the hands of griefers:
For instance, I have had issues latley with a wanna-be journalist setting up acts on my land, and suspected of paying people to say what was needed to support his article. I’ve also heard of people setting up acts in other peoples venues and contacting Lindens in an effort to close establishments. I’d be interested in knowing if we will be responsible for the acts of others on our property’s, and a more defined definition of what they consider offensive. I guess time will tell.
It’s not difficult to imagine tactics like this being employed against certain people who have become “unpopular” in SL for whatever reason…but, if such tactics can be employed against them, they can be employed against anyone. It would be a dirty, underhanded thing to do, of course, but that would be no deterrent to some.
I find I agree with Tateru; LL desperately needs to clarify the exact meaning of this policy statement, ASAP. If free expression must be curtailed, let’s curtail it only as much as necessary, and no more. We as Residents must say, as Picard did in Star Trek: First Contact, “The line must be drawn here! This far, no farther!” Yet, at the same time, we as Residents must also accept this restriction as a necessary evil, lest RL political forces curtail our freedom of expression beyond even LL’s desires. We may not be able to stave them off indefinitely. But I would rather say that I made the attempt and failed than say that I waited passively while our world surrendered to the Puritans of RL.
UPDATE: The esteemed Ms. Malaprop offers a programmatic solution to this thorny issue.