I’ve been silently fuming about something that happened last weekend, and have finally reached the apex of thought and consideration to put a post together. At the SRL party I finally got a chance to catch up with my pal Scott Beale since his trip to Seattle’s Gnomedex 6.0, where he shot lots of his trademark stunning photos of the event. We got to talking about Second Life, as we do, and he asked me if I knew what happened. I didn’t.
I never talk about kids and adult content policies, but here goes. Oh, and in case you forgot, this blog isn’t always a hugfest.
Updates: after the jump.
* * * * * * *
I was too busy finshing a book and working at SRL over the weekend to catch all the fur flying about Robert Scoble, Beth Goza and Second Life’s new participation in the trend of gaming/social networks becoming proactively prudish. If you’re not familiar with all the “web 2.0 brat pack” gossip, bear with me; there’s an issue here that directly relates to censorship and how adult content is perceived. I met Scoble at Vloggercon 2006 and he’d just announced that he was leaving Microsoft (big evil corporation) to work at Podtech (podcast network), which was like a totally big deal for everyone involved.
Scoble did a session at Gnomedex. While he did that, his 12-year-old son sat off to the side and made stuff in Second Life, which was projected up on a big screen behind the panel. Second Life is, above all else, an amazing development tool centered on building things within the interface; during the session his son built part of Scoble’s virtual office (in Second Life). And according to the Wired article Beth Goza (a Second Life employee) had watched Scoble’s son build things onscreen within the eighteen-and-up-only world and immediately told Scoble’s son afterward, “You’re toast”. Then, representing Linden Labs she sought out the father — Scoble — and told him he was going to be banned as a user for violating their mature content/membership age policy and for putting Second Life at risk.
According to Scoble’s blog,
“After the session was over Beth caught up to me and explained that my account was turned off and that my more than $100 I had invested in Second Life would not be refunded (my son and I had bought a variety of things in Second Life, including a virtual Macintosh, a house, and several other items).
We did get a podcast out of it, cause I turned the microphone on and interviewed a variety of people hanging out in the hall, along with Beth. She explained why the rules were the way they are. First, there’s the threat of a lawsuit (MySpace was sued for $30 million by a parent of a child who was alledgedly sexually assaulted by someone she met on MySpace).”
Read his whole post about the experience.
On one level I don’t care about Second Life’s messes because I don’t work there — but what really smelled bad to me about all of this was that after the conflict, Beth Goza approached Scott Beale and asked him to remove photos from his Flickr photostream related to the session. Surprised, he asked her if she was attempting to censor his photos. She specifically wanted him to remove this one:
I’ve known Scott for a long time. Scott takes pictures of people and events; he is also the nicest guy in the entire world. He doesn’t take pictures to “expose” or “out” anyone, and isn’t a sensationalist. So why would he be asked by Linden Labs to take that photo down, especially after the confrontation?
Let’s examine this: Second Life, adult content, MySpace hysteria, and Scoble’s transgression. As I’ve said on this blog numerous times and in interviews with media outlets, SL isn’t an “adult” or porn site; it’s an online game that encompasses all of human life and interaction — the people who make SL accept that humans are naturally going to sexualize *part* of their existence and give people the freedom to do so. And although members are allowed to freely express their sexuality (albeit by self-filtering community standards), the sexual parts of SL are small in relation to the whole rest of SL. It’s like — surprise! — when you have sexual freedom, you don’t become a sex “addict”, just as hot sauce fanatics don’t go from wasabi to sucking on glowing BBQ coals, and SL isn’t a teeming porn world — not by a long shot. In fact, if you don’t make things, it’s not terribly exciting. (I know I’ll get spanked for that.) But because there’s adult content to be possibly found in that world, SL rightfully has age restrictions.
“MySpace hysteria reaches the federal level as a Pennsylvania congressman — displaying a stunning ignorance of how the internet actually works — introduces a bill to ban minors from from accessing social networking sites. Which will solve everything, because teenagers will never be able to crack the “enter your birth date here” defense. (abcnews.go.com)”
We really need to be talking about what’s prosecutable (and not) in the world of porn and minors before anyone starts making scenes about media-fueled sexual predator lawsuits, social networking/online games, and the law. Especially when publicly making an example of someone and their kid. I’ve done a lot of speaking, writing and advocacy around 2257 laws, which in concept are created to keep minors from seeing/participating in explicit adult content in photo or video (*not* animated or illustrated) form. But recent Bush administration changes to these laws have made perfomers vulnerable to stalking and identity theft, have made managing records according to the new confusing definitions of “explicit” impossible for many businsesses, and have put people out of business.
Not to mention being a huge blow to free speech. These laws also spun a few social networking sites into chaos, as it put the burden of proof on sites hosting images to have full legal documentation on file in a business open to public access. (Tribe.net handled it badly, and is now for sale.) 2257 does very little to protect minors. Same goes for COPA (the Child Online Protection Act). In Scoble’s post’s comments, COPA was cited as the arbiter of sheilding children from access to adult material. Again, things like COPA and 2257 are pushed through and implemented under the guise of “protecting the children” but seldom work and have a lot of other fucked up things they’re used for. For instance, COPA is what the DoJ uses to supoena search engines for user data; its constitutionality is highly questionable for a lot of reasons.
I’ll never say that age restriction rules should be broken, because I don’t believe that for a lot of super-obvious reasons. But I will say this: kids are not stupid. They know adults break the rules all the time — and even in the strictest of corporal punishment upbringings, every kid sees hypocrisy somewhere. And they learn from it. It’s up to us as role models to help them navigate the difference between, say, a government that breaks its own laws spying on citizens (and gets away with it), and why some rules are really helpful and can keep you from seeing something you might not be ready for. That not all rules are to be followed (in an emergency, breaking rules might save a life), and some rules might indeed save your life (like wearing seat belts).
It sucks that Second Life had to police its morality so publicly. I have to wonder what the assumption was here — the worst, that Scoble was flaunting his personality (nyah!) and that his son was going to go right offstage and jump into a Second Life hot-oil plushie orgy with his two favorite Suicide Girls and that the government was going to *get* everyone there (photographic evidence of the lawlessness!), and that all the bluenoses freaked out about MySpace were coming with torches and more cameras and lawsuits and Dr. Phil to get everyone?
Erm, no. Yes, I’ll agree that putting his kid onstage in Second Life (especially with excitable SL cops in the audience) was a not-good decision. He obviously felt safe at Gnomedex and wanted to show off his kid’s mad building skillz. But Scoble is a smart guy. He knows there’s mature content in SL; I’ll bet he also knows how to talk to his son about it since this wasn’t the first time he’d broken the rules. His son is a young man living in a world of adults. (And how I *wish* gurl.com and Scarleteen were around when I was his age.)
Second Life *absolutely* takes the utmost precautions in regard to age restrictions — they have a teen-only game, too. But what they don’t need to do (and shouldn’t) is make someone’s parenting decisions for them by punishing them as a public (and high-profile) example, and threaten to ban the adult as a user. Bringing the underage MySpace rape lawsuit into it doesn’t make sense, but it gets ink — of a certain kind.
So how *do* you deal with social miscreants like Scoble? He’s a big client who has gotten SL a lot of positive publicity, in many communities. And also, obviously, he wasn’t putting his kid in a position of sexual vulnerability (though I think blasting him off the service in public makes it *seem* like that’s what was going on). Answer: you talk to him. You say, “Hey — you’re putting me in an awkward position by showcasing your kid in the adults only area. I need to acknowledge that you did this, but let’s not make a big deal out of it. How should I proceed?” You see what he says. You tell him what you’re supposed to do about it. Then you talk to your CEO or company lawyer just to get some reinforcement about procedure and know that you made the right decision, and you settle it. You don’t make it seem like something *really bad* happened, because nothing bad happened. And because above all, this is a community — in and out of the game Second Life. *Our* community. We talk to each other.
There was parental consent here. And how else are kids going to learn about why adult stuff should be for adult eyes only? The government is really fucking up how kids navigate their way into adulthood (COPA, 2257, absitnence-only teaching in schools). Companies — especially ones that are communities as well — need to acknowledge this by balancing policy and practice, too.
Here’s the podcast (thanks, anonymous); also here’s this:
Quote from Robert:
“Update: Beth Goza just called me and told me that I haven’t been
banned officially yet. She said Linden Labs still hasn’t decided what
to do with my account. She also asked me to explain why I was making
this an issue.
I told her: because I want to work in Second Life with my son and
right now that’s impossible because even if he were 13 I am not
allowed in the teen grid and he’s not allowed in my grid. And, if he
builds something cool, or I build something cool, we can’t share
items between the two worlds.”
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