by Pixeleen Mistral on 03/07/07 at 8:39 am
“Universities should be made aware that Linden Labs maintains global surveillance on all the activities of their student members and monitors them both on campus and off-site” – Edward Clift
by Pixeleen Mistral, National Affairs desk
Over the last two days, I conducted an interview with Dr. Edward Clift via e-mail, seeking his opinion on the Linden Lab deletion of Woodbury University island from the Second Life metaverse.
I will give Dr. Clift points for affecting a certain style – his Second Life avatar goes by the name MC Fizgig. In real life he is the Deputy Director, School of Media, Culture, & Design and Chair & Associate Professor, Dept. of Communication at Woodbury University, so we can assume a certain level of media-savvy, and perhaps an interest in those that hack the media to advance their own meta-messages – such as the goons and griefers. Here is a transcript of our conversation
pixeleen mistral: Did you pre-pay for the use of the Second Life island? Has Linden Lab refunded the money?
Edward Clift:We did pre-pay for the first six months of the island and have not received a refund.
pixeleen mistral: Do you plan to fight the Woodbury University sim closure?
Edward Clift: Our plan is to fight the Woodbury University closure by a) appealing to Linden Labs and b) speaking out on behalf of academic freedom.
pixeleen mistral: Apparently, Linden Lab felt that there were problems with the activities taking place in the region and with Terms Of Service violations by troublemakers. Were you aware of any of these sorts of problems?
Edward Clift: Woodbury University is a minority-serving institution whose students are often relegated to the margins or unjustly castigated as troublemakers. The fact that Linden Labs waves Terms of Service violations around with no details or supporting evidence reminds me of the Salem Witch Hunt Trials. If people come to an educational island, they seem to say, then we know you are guilty! Let’s burn you at the stake! Look, one of the 11,000 daily visitors wrote a nasty script… Let’s turn their island to grey goo! The truth is we worked diligently to institute a security force including members of the Justice League in an effort to keep problems in check. There was never any communication from Linden until the disconnection as to whether they thought we were doing a good job or not and certainly no chance to take corrective measures in any kind of cooperative fashion.
pixeleen mistral: any other comments?
Edward Clift: The faculty here believes in its students and the positive differences they can make in society. I’m not going to turn away students because they don’t meet Linden Lab’s dress code or because they speak with a Spanish rather than English accent. More importantly, I’m not going to let Linden Labs dictate how students should be educated or what they should be allowed to know. The destruction of the Woodbury 2.0 campus is, in my view, an egregious shot across the bow of academia. All institutions of higher education are now put on notice that they better not do anything too ambitious or “enlightening” unless they want to risk being shunned and eventually expelled from the Holy Grid.
Universities should be made aware that Linden Labs maintains global surveillance on all the activities of their student members and monitors them both on campus and off-site. You will never see this tracking data but you will be held accountable for everything they say or do. Monitors at Linden Labs, by the way, will draw their own conclusions as to the meaning of any speech artifacts, scripts, or student activities. Power over the grid and possession of the surveillance tapes automatically makes them right and it is nearly impossible to dispute incorrect or arbitrary determinations. Meanwhile, the venture capitalists behind SL sit on their yachts off the coast of Panama enjoying the spectacle of hapless academics begging not to be expelled (so much for tenure!).
I urged my student group to engage the primum materium of SL and not simply recreate the traditional ivy-covered buildings and chalkboard lecture hall classroom found elsewhere. The invisible “matter” of SL is the creation and interaction of alters and apparently we were the first to study and creatively experiment with these social relationships in an educational setting. Such an approach, as we have seen, can potentially antagonize the owners of a media channel seeking to naturalize its own operations. The Terms of Service agreement used to vaporize our campus is a distraction designed to hide the insufficiency of the technical architecture of Second Life itself. Isn’t it time to stop blaming the customer?
pixeleen mistral: Were you aware that other members of the “security force” are alleged members of some well known trouble-making groups in Second Life?
Edward Clift: There is no way to know whether someone is a member of one of these trouble-making groups until they demonstrate it in some way. The “security force” actually became our “road crew” and was responsible for building features of the campus. They built a stunning campus in a matter of weeks. About 10% of our “road crew” was banned when it was discovered they were members of a trouble-making organization known as p/n. We did not tolerate, support, or condone p/n on our campus and were, in fact, attacked at one point by this group for our “zero-tolerance” policy. A second “secret service” team was constructed to monitor SIM use and maintain order on a nearly 24/7 basis. The members of this team were drawn from recognized security personnel in the world including the JLU and a variety of private islands.
pixeleen mistral: So you were not contacted at all after the initial warnings in mid-april?
Edward Clift: That is correct. The only other contact was a telephone message I received in late April from Robin or Nicole Linden reiterating their threat to discontinue the island. No action was taken, however, and a bill was sent to us shortly thereafter so I assumed everything was running smoothly again.
pixeleen mistral: How would you respond to the second life residents that say Woodbury acted as a rallying point for gangs of troublemakers? Do you feel you have a
responsibility to the SL society as a whole to police your sim?
Edward Clift: I think people may be misinterpreting the events based on the hyperactive spin machine created by certain reporters and residents with vested interests or connections to the Lindens. We take very seriously our responsibility to police the SIM and instituted every reasonable security measure we could without taking the island completely private.
it is unreasonable to invite universities into the world and then ask them to stop acting like a university
pixeleen mistral: So your concern here is the lack of due process and a clear appeals process?
Edward Clift: To say the least!
pixeleen mistral: Assuming that immersive social spaces are a new media and a place where many people will spend significant time and energy, do you see any alternatives to Second Life? What would you hope for from a metaverse service provider?
Edward Clift: I think it is unreasonable to invite universities into the world and then ask them to stop acting like a university. I am deeply repulsed by the eagerness of otherwise smart, well-intentioned people to try to solve all the underlying tensions of SL by banning residents or entire islands at the drop of the dime. This strategy needs to stop at the doors of academe whose whole existence is founded on the idea of educating others (presumed a priori to be lacking in the knowledge they seek) and exploring new ideas together in the open communication forum known as the classroom.
We created a living campus in Second Life where people of all stripes got together, shared ideas, and learned from each other. An art gallery had just been built that was going to house a student show on homelessness in LA and powerpoint lectures on Darfur were planned. Metaverses are a burgeoning phenomenon, and rightly so, but their controllers will need to assume a more relaxed stance before users give them full credibility. I see them in the future functioning much more like a utility or internet hosting company as more people become accustomed to living out their fantasies– and realities– in these worlds.