Thursday, September 9, 2010

A Tale of Two Second Life Banishments

From Visual Thesaurus

Two Second Life banishments hit the blogosphere and SocNet yesterday. Emerald Viewer developer Arabella Steadham's accounts were permanently terminated for "severe or repeated violations of the Second Life Terms of Service or Community Standards." Virtual fashion designer and artist Eshi Otawara was banned for one hour for using swastikas and a concentration camp theme in an art installation on the day before the Jewish New Year holiday. The juxtaposition of the two events brought a couple thoughts to mind:
  • You still don't own crap in Second Life, including your identity. A virtual world is not a country and you are not a citizen with certain inalienable rights. A virtual world is a software platform owned by a corporation. You are a customer with whatever rights have been granted in the Terms of Service Agreement. If you haven't read the TOS, here's the salient language: ACCOUNT HISTORY AND ACCOUNT NAMES RESIDING ON LINDEN LAB'S SERVERS, MAY BE DELETED, ALTERED, MOVED OR TRANSFERRED AT ANY TIME FOR ANY REASON IN LINDEN LAB'S SOLE DISCRETION. 
  • The word "ban" seems to be used by Second Lifers to refer both to permanent account termination and a one hour lock-out. This can be a bit confusing. I first heard of the Eshi ban in a Plurk yesterday. Since there were no other details at the time, I assumed she had been permanently blocked from Second Life. I was very busy all day and didn't have a chance to get the details until late that night when I discovered the "ban" was only for an hour. I suggest we use another term for these mini-bans for clarity of communication. Although it would have been less dramatic, I would prefer a headline like "Eshi Otawara Punished by Linden Lab with a Time-Out For Use of Nazi Symbolism in Her Art Project."
These incidents are a good reminder to make sure your virtual identity is replicated in other worlds including your name, avatar form and whatever possessions you can smuggle out. 

13 comments:

Zauber Paracelsus said...

I think the term used for a temporary ban is Suspension.

Mr. Crap Mariner said...

There's ban and permaban.

Kinda like being active and proactive, I guess.

-ls/cm who hates the term "proactive"

livingvirtually said...

It makes one want to consider how much we invest in virtual goods, doesn't it?

Wizzy Gynoid said...

eshi tweeted to the world that she had been banned, with no details forthcoming for hours. various people RT'd her. so that's how the news spread that she was banned. later on, one deduced from her more detailed blog post that it was, in fact, only a suspension. the larger issue, of course, is whether Linden Lab *should* suspend someone for something they merely deem offensive. the servers reside in the U.S.A. and U.S. citizens have a First Amendment right to free speech, which includes the right to wave a Nazi flag around if one feels so inclined. I'm not familiar with the details of eshi's incident, but i'm of the impression that it was within the context of an artwork, and there is plenty of precedent for that sort of thing. (saveme oh?) the issue with arabella's permanent banning has to do with her assertion that she did nothing at all that violated T.O.S. or Community Standards. she asserted in her response to the banning that it was motivated rather as a response to her violently critical blog of the day before, which was severely critical of Linden Lab. again the issue seems to be, *should* Linden Lab ban merely because they don't agree with published criticism. in arabella's case it certainly could be argued that her behavior went beyond mere literary criticism, but one wonders why some of her other partners in crime weren't banned.

Botgirl Questi said...

Wizzy: For sure, the brushfire of social network news travels a lot faster than the associated facts around a story.

The First Amendment doesn't extend free speech rights to private property. Since all of Second Life is within servers owned by Linden Lab, I don't think are any applicable rights.

Although the story still isn't completely clear, I don't think she was locked-out because of the content of her work, but because she refused to remove it when asked to do so.

I think the verdict is still out on the reasons behind Arabella's expulsion. And we may never get the full story. But as the language from the TOS I referenced in the post clearly states, Linden Lab doesn't need a reason.

I've intentionally refrained from giving an opinion on *should* question, mostly because I don't think I have complete enough facts to make that type of judgement. But in general, I think that Linden should do what it thinks is best for its business and we should do what we think is best for ourselves and our communities.

Johnny said...

Looking beyond the specifics of these cases, in both of which the ban was justified I suppose, there is a broader issue of the unsatisfactory way that the Lab deals with these matters. Enforcement of the regulations is done in a haphazard and seemingly capricious manner, without any attempt at following due process. There are plenty of examples of this; the cases of Woodbury U and Greg Drayman come to mind.

One might say that it's the Lindens' game, and they can do what they like, and to some extent this is true, though the TOS are not the last word on this, since courts can overturn contracts that require customers to sign away their rights - here's an example. Arabella especially could have a case that she has been unjustly deprived of property - I'm not aware if there has been a ruling yet on the Evans vs Linden lawsuit, which deals with similar issues.

Beyond this there is also the fact that SL is supposed to be more than just a game - it has been sold to us as a virtual community, and if it is going to have a future as such there will need to be a mature system of governance. That means formal dispute resolution mechanisms, with independent tribunals and the right of appeal, and a democratic system of oversight that answers to the community, rather than anonymous Lindens swinging the banhammer without any accountability.

maria.trombly said...

At the end of the day, if you're investing substantial time and money into a virtual identity -- as an artist, content producer, or just fashionista -- you should consider owning your own grid.

A Diva Distro is free to setup, hypergrid-enabled, and gives you four regions -- 64 acres -- to do with as you will. You can run it on a home computer for free, or on a hosted server somewhere. Or hire a hosting provider to do it for you -- prices start at just $10 a region for professional hosting.

Expect to pay up to $100 a region if you want high performance and ability to handle lots of visitors, but even the $10 regions will get you started and give you a place to call home.

Once you have your own grid, nobody can ban you. The only TOS is the one you create for yourself -- and, of course, the laws of the country where your server is located. (Why is nobody putting server farms in space yet?)

You can have as many backups of your grid, and your inventory, as you want.

You can upload objects to Second Life easily (getting them out again, of course, is the problem).

And you can travel to the hundreds of destinations already on the hypergrid (more appearing daily).

-- Maria Korolov
Editor, Hypergrid Business

sororNishi said...

Yes, I think Maria, that the future is the hypergrid, until then we do whatever the Lab deems fit.

Botgirl Questi said...

Johnny: I agree with you. I've written a number of posts about the disparity between Linden Lab's marketing messages versus the language of the TOS. I think it's possible that when the dust settles there is some sort of legal decision that requires some restitution. But I think that Maria is right in that the only way to have full control over your virtual assets is to own your own grid and then upload to whatever virtual world you wish to participate in.

Maria: I also think the most prudent course of action is to keep virtual assets on servers you control, be they local or through some third-party hosting service. And a federated hypergrid with some easy way to move your identity and assets between grids is the ideal solution.

annotoole said...

Eshi got her hand smacked with a ruler. Note that the main swastika in Eshi's protest had the emerald log as it's hub. Which to me made it look more like an emerald swastika crushing Linden Lab names. Just an art critic observation.

As for this comment: "Although the story still isn't completely clear, I don't think she was locked-out because of the content of her work, but because she refused to remove it when asked to do so." - Botgirl

That does not mesh with the chain of events I was witness to. I don't think there was enough time for LL to issue a warning and, based on my personal observations of what happens to griefers with hitler cube heads, LL simply erases them without comment or warning. You might want to ask Eshi about it before posting assumptions about the chain of events.

As for Arabella? She got flushed like a stanky green nugget. Obviously there was more to that than Arabella, her minions, or LL has revealed. I doubt we will ever see the truth of exactly why.

As much as I get upset with LL decisions and actions from time to time the thought never enters my head to act out in public. I might rant to a friend to release angst and tension but that is about it. It is LL's servers and LL's rules and I have never held any misconception that SL was some sort of autonomous country. I did have the misconception it was possible for there to be a fair trade playing field once upon a time but I'm over that lol. LL owns the stadium, bleachers, snack stands, snacks, all the teams, and all the equipment. The game goes the way LL wants it to go. LL allows some to cash out along the way and they should be grateful for it. I'm grateful SL exists.

Not looking forward to the landscape of fascist controlled virtual worlds that bind your rl identity to your avatars in order to silence dissent. SL is a rare and valuable gem.

Botgirl Questi said...

Ann: I've heard conflicting accounts about the chain of events, but in any case an hour lock-out is no big deal and mostly an attention grabber (for the person affected.)

Like you, I've made peace with the reality that Second LIfe is a corporate controlled entity with very limited legal rights for those who use it. I think that where their marketing language conflicted with the TOS there might be some legal remedy, but that's just a hopeful guess.

With the steady advances of OpenSim and other virtual world platforms it's likely that in a few years Second LIfe will be just one of many full featured options.

Wizzy Gynoid said...

i have just one more comment to add to this thread. just because LL's TOS says something doesn't mean that is the law of the land. RL courts can and do look at and overrule such things. there are some things you can't do in privately owned RL space, (the familiar "We reserve the right to withhold service" sign comes to mind) but there are many situations where the owner's hands are tied, or constrained. for example, you can't discriminate in a restaurant based on sex or race. you have to allow disabled access, etc. the more interesting and challenging big picture issue has to do with the definition of "public" space in a virtual world. yes, it's hosted on a private server, but it is public space, open to the world at large. such a thing is unprecedented in legal history and what is acceptable or not will ultimately be decided by court cases, not by a TOS, which is just the assertion of LL's legal team.

Adric said...

How we make this connection between ownership and speech is a little unclear to me.

Just as you perceive this right to speak, someone else perceives the right to not feel your intolerance or lack of respect for them as a person.

As for this democratic board of whatever. Come on. You want it when you feel wronged, but if someone else does you scream injustice when you find it's binding on you.

As has been said, you can run a heck of a standalone OpenSim server on your very own machine. I do. You can make your rules and do whatever you want. In fact, let's wager on what you do if someone you invite to log in annoys you. Form a board? Vote on it? Really?