Thursday, November 25, 2010
Here Come The Teens (Hide Your Pose Balls & Censor Your Profiles)
Location: Linden Lab Blog
Terrence Linden seems to be assigned the tough jobs by his employer. He's an urbane man who visited the Virtual Worlds Roundtable a while back, just before the price-hike for education and nonprofits. We all liked what he said to us, then, though a week later I'm sure a few educators were saying entirely different things.
Now Terrence got the short straw and has to explain to residents how safeguards will work when 13-17 year old teens are permitted on Second Life's Main Grid next year. I waded through the comments to Terrence's post, I wondered what the changes might mean for those who teach, host sims, hold events, or develop educational content.
First, we'll have to police not only our profiles but also those of visitors who come to our events on any sims zoned "General." Linden Lab is clearly not doing this, and though certain terms can be blocked automatically in classified listings, does the Lab have the ability to consider every photograph in a profile pic?
I just was at a VWER meeting with a woman whose name and profile noted her BDSM interests and even status as a teacher of these erotic arts. At a meeting with teens, I'd argue that she could not stay, nor could those with naughty group-titles or pictures in their profiles. Are we to AR such folks to prove due diligence? While I could care less what an adult does in private, once teens are legitimately "in the house," inaction will no longer be an option. Could a group who hosts events be sued in a US court? The sim owner? Linden Lab? All of above? We'll soon find out.
Naughty Cam, Naughty Click
For 13-15 year olds, to me it seems that Linden Lab's safeguards are sufficient. They will be locked down to estates where they have been sponsored.
But for 16 & 17 year-olds, who will be able to come to the Mainland, I agree with Ceera Murakami, who opined "Parcel bans to NOT prevent someone from camming into a parcel and buying content from vendors. They do NOT prevent anyone who is banned from interacting with content in the parcel they are banned from. The only "safe" thing to do with the arrival of the teens is to remove 100% of the content that is not G-rated from the mainland. Period. The vast majority of the Mature sims on the Mainland are within camming distance of one or more G-rated sims."
Linden Lab currently lacks the ability to police camming and clicking. One of my students, in Fall 2009, found many adult items in plain view on the Mainland just walking down the Linden-built roadways.
After the Teen Grid merges, no teen, in theory, will be allowed into a "Moderate" sim, the analog to the Mature sim. This, too, needs to be tested carefully before teachers bring their teens to the Mainland. My student later walked into a night club in a Mature sim to find a couple on a pool table, talking very dirty in public chat while warming up to have cybersex in front of the other patrons. Only my student and the loving couple can be seen here.
My student was not looking for this sort of content. He was part of my gender-or-race-change assignment, and he used in-world search to find popular social spaces to see how other residents would react to his female avatar. Not wanting a turn on the pool table, after an "Ewwwwww! Old folks doing it!" (and a snapshot!) he left. He was also 18 years old.
The Logical Fallacy of "It's No Different from the Internet"
How is our diddling among the pool balls different from what a minor might see on the 2D Web? A lot tamer, if it were only snaps. But I want to head off a rather facile complaint that "SL is no different from the Internet." In a PG-rated word, bullshit.
As an interactive environment, SL's content can "talk back" and educators make a great deal of how immersive it all is. We cannot argue that the environment is both more realistic than other online experiences and yet, when it comes to adult content, no different.
As meshes come to the grid, we'll make a big step closer to a photo-realistic metaverse.
My European colleagues will be scratching their heads over a lot of my concerns, but while the USA is not Iran, we have many thin-skinned moral conservatives who would not mind filing a law suit or two. We have conservative-activist Attorneys General in states like mine with ambitions for national office. A few appearances on some law-and-order TV show "protecting our children from online smut" would further such careers.
And we are a litigious nation.
It May All be Moot
While 16-17 year olds will be able to register from home, at school it may not be an issue. Even after the change, many schools will not touch SL with a 10-meter prim pole. My wife's county does not let any flavor of SL through its firewall, and having exceptions granted is a tedious business.
Personally, I'm not even bringing my of-age students to SL in 2011-12, since I'll be using Jokaydia Grid and my Usher simulation. Any who explore SL for class research will sign my usual waiver. By then, this mess may be sorted out. Or not. Linden Lab needs new customers, and getting teens in-world seems to promise that. I'd argue that they could have already signed up in droves for the soon-to-close Teen Grid, had Linden Lab spent money on marketing.
If Linden Lab wants more concurrency and dots on their map, they should have instead encouraged in-world shopping and fixed some of the extant problems with their grid. Merchants like Morris Mertel have closed their in-world (and teen-friendly) shops to go to the online marketplace.
I'm just glad my colleagues and university won't be dealing with this legal jungle.