by Urizenus Sklar on 11/11/06 at 2:34 pm
Residents vote unrepentant flacks off of 400+ islands!
In one of the most significant developments in the history of virtual worlds and Massively Multiplayer Online Games, Residents of the Second Life gated community Dreamland have voted to ban unrepentant PR Flacks from their 400-500 Sim region. Conservative estimates suggest that Dreamland consititutes 10% of the land mass and 10% of the active resisidents in Second Life — each sim roughly equivalent to 65,000 meters of land. (Dreamland, of course was developed by SL resident Anshe Chung, who was recently featured on the cover of Business Week Magazine). Residents were apparently incensed by the recent spate of “false first” claims by PR Flacks, marketing mavens, and clueless corporations and by their arrogance and inability to admit error. The resolution:
[18:28] Second Life: Some PR agencies and RL companies have abused SL and made claims in RL media of being first to do things many SL residents have done long before them (“1st radio station in SL”, “1st fashion brand”, “1st tabloid”).
SHOULD WE BAN THEM FROM DREAMLAND?
Group Dreamland Citizens Proposal PASSED!
Reached for comment by the Herald, Dreamland Developer Anshe Chung indicated that she had not yet determined how to enact the initiative, and plans a public statement in the near future. Clearly there is room for interpretation of the initiative. For example, it is unclear precisely how egregious an offense must be to warrant banning and equally unclear what would count as a suitably contrite apology. Presumably Ms. Chung could make these determinations by herself, or an in game court system like the Metaverse Superior Court could be called upon.
Of course these events raise profound philosophical questions…
One way to think of Dreamland is as a vast gated community with its own laws and own enforcement mechanisms (principally banning). What makes this recent development interesting is that the banning tool is not being used to protect in-world territory from griefers, but is now being deployed in an attempt to enforce social norms in an online world. In this case the norm is “don’t falsely take credit for the accomplishments of others.” Clearly the PR firms do not understand the importance of this norm and for this reason they have not apologized or properly retracted their statements, preferring instead to equivocate about what they meant by ‘first’, or calling their claims harmless business as usual, or in some cases telling Second Life residents they “need to learn” that this is how it is going to be. Clearly none of those responses were what residents wanted to hear.
The deep question now facing us is whether this tool might be abused (or perhaps is already being abused). There is a fine line between enforcing social norms and undermining free speech. What makes the border tricky is that one wants to leave room for legitimate debate about historical events, but clearly false claims are not merely academic arguments (like who invented the zipper), but cut to the issue of social capital in Second Life: reputation and social capital in Second Life is closely tied to our accomplishments in world. Thus, a false claim of first in Second Life is equivalent to theft in the real world.
The banning resolution, as passed, is widely interpreted as giving residents who make false claims the opportunity to retract their statements. Of course, they also remain free to stick to their guns and stay away from Dreamland and whatever regions of the game ban them next. For that matter, since they rarely set foot in the game anyway, they could continue making these claims even if the received a total ban from Second Life.
The sad thing is that it had to come to this. Apparently, however, that this is just the most recent in a string of episodes in which the PR industry has invaded a social space and deeply offended the residents, in some cases leading to the phenomenon of channel abandonment. Clearly they are not learning. I guess it comes to this: hubris dies hard. Maybe the residents of Dreamland can get their attention.
(And in case you are wondering. The Herald did not initiate or campaign for this initiative, and did not learn of it until voting was in progress.)