Thursday, June 28, 2007

Now for the Seedier Side of Second Life

This is actually Part 2 of 2. Read the earlier post first.

Murky Waters - The Law of Prohibited Fantasies

Closely related to the idea of whether an avatar has legal standing is whether an avatar can commit a crime. Corporations can commit crimes, although they're artificial entities, but you can't put a corporation in jail. You can, however, put a human in jail for things done in the virtual world by an avatar of his or her own creation. It's getting dicier now that European countries – Germany, in particular – are considering the prosecution of virtual ageplay on SL, even without the involvement of actual children. Such conduct would appear unlawful in Australia, too, but apparently not the US.

As everyone now knows, SL is being used to make connections for the real life trafficking of real life child pornography. Few are surprised. Linden is reportedly cooperating with authorities in Germany and at one poijnt said its new policy was to ban not only underage users but any depiction by adults of sexual acts involving avatars who look underage. Meanwhile Linden is on record stating that it knows it has no effective way to ban underage players without age verification. They're looking to sim owners to police their own. Let's see how that's working out.

In the wake of recent revelations, the Group Charter for the 900 member group "Hunter High Roleplay," which until recently anyone could join and led to the formation of a number of other underage role-playing subgroup, was revised to reads as follows: "Due to Roblin Lindens (sic) comments stating that any type of under 18 [role play] being punishable, and people like sljoe coming in and filming players at Hunter without consent for media purposes, I've closed Hunter for now. I cannot risk losing my account which is how I support my family. I'd consider reopening as a college in the future, but will avoid venues of a sexual nature while the moral police decide weather (sic) it is acceptable for consenting adults to act out common fantasys (sic). I'm sorry it has come to this."

Weeks after the controversy arose, all of the ageplay related groups remained searchable. During this period, we visited what appeared to be a sim that solicits age play. It was an accident. We meant to visit the SL Bar Association, founded by Benjamin Noble, an articulate avie who is a lawyer in real life and has his own SL law blog, VirtuallyBlind. He says he's usually at the in-world offices of the SLBA. We went there twice, but no one was home. No visitors even. We left a message, which went unanswered a bit too long. Bored, we started flying around.

Next door another sim was bursting with activity. We were curious. We wandered over. We found them in the groups list: "The City of Lost Angel's (sic)," billed as "A Dark Rolepaly\Combat\Sex Community." We read the info to see who's invited: "Vampires, werewolves, predators, crazies, homeless poeple, druggies, whores and gagsters, schoolgirls, street people...all are welcome."

Schoolgirls? As in Hunter High? Does this mean the group, which has many interrelated sims and this one alone listed over 1300 members, solicits ageplay? We were not members, but we found it easy to use our camera controls to slip into the bleak brick fortress and sit ourselves down somewhere inside a fortress which only appears impenetrable and hangs imposibly high in the sky. For a little while, until it seemed we were going to be eaten alive and quickly teleported home, we wandered through rivers of blood, walls of fire, and encountered just a few of the dozens of players inside the sim's darkly ritualistic setting. We were there only a few minutes, not long enough to navigate our way to anything probative, one way or the other.

Later, we pinged Founder Suzanna Soyinka and asked her some questions. You be the judge.

Me: In light of the new policies and legal issues concerning the depiction of minors in SL, do you think you will have a problem soliciting "schoolgirls" to join your City of Lost Angel's group? I mean, "girl" is a term reserved for underage characters, or those who act underaged, is it not?

Suzanna: I don't allow under age players. Pedophilia is my line in the sand. Anyone even appears to cross it I ban them.

Me: Of course. But what about players who "act" underage.

Suzanna: They don't. The rules are clear. We've had two child players in the entire history of [the City of Lost Angel's (sic)]... One moved on because we're not friendly to that kind of play. The other aged their avatar to something legal. People are well aware of my prejudice in the area.

Me: So... who do you intend to attract by using the term "schoolgirls"?

Suzanna: Dunno thats been there for 9 months, I'll happily take it out... I wrote that description nearly a year ago and hadn't even realized I'd put schoolgirls in there til you mentioned it.

Me: How many members do you have, adding up all your affiliated groups?

Suzanna: 8,213. That was last week's count (as of May 17).

Me: You have any more thoughts about recent scandals? Has it affected your groups at all? Police queries? Queries about the thresholds of legality of depicting things, even if everyone involved is of age. Also, problems with people sharing real world child porn pics thru contacts made on SL in age play areas. Leading to the recent outright ban.

Suzanna: Have there been recent scandals? ... Like I said, not an issue I care about really. If they're banning child porn traffickers I say more power to them... The Lindens know me very well. If something gets past me, they'll let me know. And I have 48 player staffers.

Me: Thanks for your time and for chatting.

My conclusion is, Linden is still not prohibiting groups from using language which would appear to solicit avies for age-related sex play. Are Soyinka's players engaging in it or not? Dunno. What's a "schoolgirl"? Is it possible that Soyinka, as successful as she is, is as naive as she seems?

Update from SLJoe, the avie fronting the real world journalist vilified by Hunter High, whose investigations led to the discovery of real world child pornography trafficking inside SL: "There's more to come. We're still investigating." Towards the end of May, he said we should look for more video disclosures on http://www.sljoe.com/, which was slated to go live on June 1. We've been checking back, but no relevant videos have appeared. Meanwhile, his site contains a disappointingly high number of spelling and punctuation errors. (What's up with all this bad spelling?) There's other stuff posted there, but not the promised goods.

48 comments:

benjamin said...

Interesting article. Sorry I missed you last week. I run the website Virtually Blind (http://www.virtuallyblind.com) and also founded the Second Life Bar Association as avatar 'Benjamin Noble.' I've been out of the country the last two weeks and just now received your message. Hope you got all your questions answered, but if not, feel free to drop me a note.

Suzanna Soyinka said...

Schoolgirls could mean college school girls.

Sensationalistic blogging is a bit tiresome. I mean really, lets take what I said and use it out of context by all means. I mean its quite obvious I'm against underage age-play in Second Life but it makes for a much more inflammatory article if you just leave it hanging with a ending rider statement like that.

Considering the entire thing, I'm sure your journalism professor would be appalled at the blatant tabloid-ism.

Next time you contact me for a quote, try not to misquote me. I'm far from naive, I just believe in a certain amount of freedoms within the limits I choose to set and pedophilia is quite clearly stated as one of them.

Thank you.

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