Sex is the origin of virtual law

Linden Lab has recently announced its zero tolerance policy on

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…

promising that transgressions

will be swiftly met with a variety of sanctions, including termination of accounts, closure of groups, removal of content, and loss of land

Many are seeing this as the beginning of clear restrictions on user freedom, i.e. an escalation of rule-based governance.

If this indeeds proves a turning point, we are seeing a rather obvious parallel to the development in LambdaMoo, where the actions of one virtual rapist led to strong restrictions on (accepted) in-game behaviour.

It is also comparable to what happened in MicroMUSE, nicely described by Anna DuVal Smith in her Problems of Conflict Management in Virtual Communities (from which I allow myself to quote at length):

Swagger was a teenager who built an Orgasm Room filled with sex objects to which he apparently invited female users for online sex. When a director discovered this, Swagger was summarily nuked (the MicroMUSE term for complete removal of the character and all its virtual property from the database). Swagger returned as a guest and complained about his treatment on the public channel (a medium of mass communication similar to a citizens-band radio channel). He was successful in raising the support of various citizens and staff who believed that he should not have been terminated without an opportunity to defend himself. Two staff cooperated in the re-creation of Swagger’s character. At this point, the director whose action had been countermanded objected. A vote of the Executive Board (a body composed of all directors) affirmed the director’s original action. Swagger was nuked again, and informed that he had been exiled for a period of two months, after which he could petition for readmission.

Before Swagger’s exile by the Executive Board, there was a town meeting presided over by yet a third staff member. About forty people, including Swagger, attended and discussed restrictions on citizen speech, governance and the justice system. Sentiment was expressed for the election (rather than the appointment) of administrators and/or other means of providing citizen input to the governing body. The attendees also complained about the lack of a meaningful system of justice, alleging power abuse by directors, no opportunity for the accused to defend himself, no trial by jury, and no code of laws (the latter was untrue as everyone was emailed a list of rules upon registration). Shortly thereafter, an unmoderated, open-subscription mailing list was initiated upon which citizens aired their complaints about MicroMUSE and posted various items of general interest, such as the transcript of the town meeting.

One month later, a new Charter was adopted, creating a complex system of governance which included a Citizens Council with a nonvoting representative on the new primary governing body (Advisory Board), and a role for appointed voting advisors who might or might not have technical powers. The 1993 Charter also elaborated and codified the procedure for dealing with rule violations, but did not contain all elements of due process systems sought by the dissidents, such as peer jury trials. It did, however, promulgate the limited right of appeal first granted to Swagger. At about the same time, some of the more disaffected citizens mounted their own MUSE, dubbing it “AntiMicroMuse,” upon which virulent attitudes towards MicroMUSE administrators were expressed. This MUSE was enormously successful for a brief spell, but it was operated in violation of the policy of its system administrator’s university, so was short-lived.

The biggest threat to the dream of online utopia is sex?

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