by PaleFire on 21/08/11 at 8:18 pm
Have griefers turned the JLU into a paranoid collective?
When I approached Peter Ludlow at the Society of Cinema and Media Studies in May 2010, I never would have guessed that my research would cause so much concern among anti-griefing organizations, and by that, I mean specifically Kalel Venkman. Here’s why I am writing this post now, even though I have been conducting my research on griefers since 2006. Apparently, warning notices were sent out to the "Proactive Security" group about me today:
A Reminder - do not interview with Defne Demar
She claims to have only weak ties to the Alphaville Herald, the griefer apologia tabloid run by Pixeleen Mistral, but the truth is that she's in so deep with them she's almost out the other side. She's working on a book for Peter Ludlow, whose only aim is to glorify griefers. Anything you give her will not be used for good.
Best advice is to refuse to talk to her, or mute her if you'd rather not be bothered by this person. You all know me well enough that I never say something like this lightly.
Let’s back up a bit. When I started my research on Second Life, I was a graduate student writing my dissertation on cross-media storytelling. I thought it would be neat to include the disruptive narratives that griefers in Second Life generate as an example of vernacular creativity. At the time, Voted5 had just got banned and all the usual suspects were hanging out at the #SL IRC. So I hung out at the IRC, but also went to SLCC 2006 to establish some contacts and meet the community at large. All were welcoming and friendly. I am grateful to have them as my friends. I started hanging around in Baku and try to connect with the W-Hat - with mixed success. No surprise there.
Some acted like horses ass, pretended that they were giving me “false” information, while others (like Masakazu Kojima and Decomposing Monstre) were genuinely interested in giving me information about how they build/create/generate stories in this virtual environment such as Second Life.
I went back to SLCC in 2007 and 2008 and gave papers on the griefing subculture. Right around the time when I was ending my field work, I was able to establish contact with the PN and talked to their leader, Frizzlefry, who again was (and still is) genuinely interested in answering my questions about their organization and their raids. He introduced me to a bunch of their members in their IRC so I can talk to all of them.
Around that time (June 10, 2008 to be exact), I e-mailed Kalel Venkman to ask for an interview and he told me to e-mail him my questions and he’d be happy to answer them. I sent him my human subjects consent form (as required by the IRB-the human subject’s bureau) and waited for him. He sent me the following e-mail the very next day explaining the goal of his organization and some comments about the PN, but failing to give me an interview. I am posting this very first e-mail with some of my comments:
“You have a considerably long paper trail behind you, and that is something quite difficult to forge. While I may not have any great trust of you at the moment, I do not have any great DIStrust of you either, and your approach to the subject matter appears quite scholarly. I do have over-arching concerns for the safety of the people with whom I relate on a daily basis, so you'll forgive my caution, I hope.”
So, I thought, great! He acknowledges that I have a valid research agenda and that I am *not* pretending to be someone else that I am not, but he is a bit careful. That is to be expected. The e-mail continued:
“I would be willing to share information so as to assist you in building a more balanced picture of events, but may have to omit details on occasion where safety or security would be compromised in the telling. If we approach such information in our discussions, I will let you know rather than simply fabricate information. In return, I hope that you will respect my need to keep some things in reserve. The PN do not operate in the virtual world alone.”
I thought, perfect, as I do want to take a more balanced approach and I don’t need the security details anyway. I want to hear about how the PN is related to the Internet at large. Of course, he is going to withhold some sensitive information. The e-mail continued to explain his organization and how the griefer collective re-imagines/reinvents the history of Second Life:
“Also, I have been running a fairly successful organization within this virtual environment for over two years now, and have acquired what I believe may be some interesting insights into the social dynamic of the metaverse within which we function. I believe that the principles involve essentially transcend the specific platform and may be applicable to other MMO environments as well. You may find some of my observations useful in your dissertation.
One thing I have noticed in particular about griefer groups, and the PN in particular, is that they have a very patchy, distorted perception of their own history - often rewriting the parts they find distasteful or unpleasant to suit their egos, and sometimes confusing the disinformation they disseminate with the actual events. They are frequently unable to communicate with one another except through the use of common memes, and this has a tendency to obfuscate communication to the point where critical information is either not conveyed, reimagined or forgotten. In particular, they seem to be able to clearly remember events going back only about four to five months at most, living almost completely in the moment.
But he never responded to any of my e-mails after that. Realizing that he wasn’t interested in an interview, I stopped trying to contact him.
I graduated from my program in 2009 and it is around that time that I met Peter Ludlow.
When I approached him at the aforementioned conference, we had the idea to write a book that covered the phenomenon of griefing across the Internet. Peter said that it would be best for me to also “work” for the Herald and post some blogs. That I did. I posted some news reports on hackers in general but mainly focused on the book.
My goal with the book, at least in the Second Life section, was to tell the “untold” history of Second Life before it was too late - before the key players disappeared into thin air - before the history was forgotten. By that, I don’t mean the PG13 history of Second Life, the one sanctioned by Linden Lab. I wanted this to be the community’s story. Here’s a brief description of the book’s scope:
“Griefer Wars will begin by examining the early instances of the disruptive activities that took place in online communities such as LambdaMOO and Sims Online and investigate how Internet message boards (Something Awful Forums and 4chan) helped organize these solitary incidents into various movements that extend beyond these boards. In particular, the book will be discussing the presence of such movements in virtual worlds such as EvE Online and Second Life.”
With this goal in mind, I dusted off my previous interview scripts and re-started my field work. I reached out for old contacts and established new ones. I met a bunch of people from the Woodbury crowd (whom I never met before), met more from V5 and PN. I was able to reach out to some of the previous leaders of these groups (Verbana and ^ban^, for instance) and their officers who used to be in the inner circle of these groups. For the PN, that meant the Ghost Shirt Society (GSS) who really knew the ins and outs of their organizations and the psyops that had been conducted in the past.
It is around that time, I figured, contacting Kalel may be a good idea because in the e-mail that he had sent me in 2008, he told me that “[he] would be willing to share information so as to assist [me] in building a more balanced picture of events…” Despite many people’s warnings, who told me that this was a bad idea, I took the man for his word. After all, I wanted to relate a “balanced account” of the events that had occurred. Little did I know that he was not all together there after the infamous Wiki leak. Here’s my e-mail dated May 17, 2011:
I had contacted you several years ago in the hopes that we could chat about JLU while I was writing my dissertation. Let me remind of you what I was doing at the time: I wrote on transmedia storytelling for my dissertation but looked at the development of spatial stories that emerged as a result of the activities of griefers. I graduated in 2009 but I am in the process of writing a book with Peter Ludlow on the phenomenon of griefers, but we are taking a broader approach to the topic. In other words, not only will we be looking at Second Life, but also other virtual worlds, various message boards, and other social networking sites. I am in the process of writing the Second Life section. I personally would like to take a well-rounded approach to the topic. So far I have spoken with some people from the PN,Woodbury, and I am in the process of scheduling interviews with some of the Linden Lab employees. In the hopes of hearing the JLU side of the story, I decided to send you another e-mail. As I see it, this project is an ethnographic research on Second Life as we are documenting some of the happenings that will be lost forever once the platform dies or evolves into something else. So I deem this project to be very valuable. But I would rather not tell a sided story, hence my e-mail to you. I am not affiliated with anyone or anything other than my research and I think JLU may have been short-changed in the process. Will you help me write your story? Or know of someone else who would be willing to chat with me?
Let me know.”
Response was a series of frantic, threatening e-mails. I am not going to quote them word for word, but rather, give you the gist of the madness that was coming through his e-mails. He told me that any material from the BrainiacWiki is copyrighted and that if I included any of that information in the book he’d be filing a DMCA challenge - and that they will wait until the book is in print and released before doing so. He told me that we may not quote him, anything from the Krypton Radio web site, or any web site he personally owned or edited.
He also spoke on behalf of other people: That he will also be notifying as many people as he could that Ludlow is doing this (For the record: I am not working for Ludlow; I am working with Ludlow), and that I would be receiving a number of other written notifications not to quote or include the writings of others in this work. Of course, none of these things happened. People were fairly open and understanding and I was respectful of my boundaries.
He also vengefully claimed that not only would he not be imparting any information to me, but that I was forbidden from using any information that he owned in my work.
Here is when it really got interesting: He was telling me that I may not reprint articles from the Herald that contained his intellectual property.
He also told me that I was dishonest with him in the first time when I e-mailed him in 2008 because I hadn’t told him that I was working with Ludlow. Then he proceeded to accuse Ludlow of being an IP thief because moved his servers to Canada after Kalel filed the DMCA. None of which, of course, was even remotely true. I didn’t start working with Ludlow before 2009; Ludlow didn’t mastermind the leaking operations, nor did he move his servers to Canada to avoid lawsuits, and he is not a thief of any sorts. I wish he was, really, for my sake, for the sake of the book, for the sake of my career. If we were to tell the story of the Philosophy professor going rogue, engaging in leaking operations, stealing intellectual property, putting babies on stakes, I would get my tenure - like now! But no, unfortunately, we have to deal with the boring story we have.
After the series of e-mails Kalel sent me (which were mostly gibberish and had no value to me whatsoever), I realized that he wasn’t going to assist me in writing a “balanced” story of the events after all.
Baffled, I responded by telling him never to threaten me or any other researcher this way again and that “I was merely extending my courtesy to [him] to allow me to write a better account of what JLU was and what its mission [was].” He sent another gibberish e-mail talking about copyright/DMCA etc., at which point I was getting tired of his e-mails and openly asked him:
“Kalel, I am not sure who you think you are interacting with right now. Clearly you have made a lot of assumptions about me and you don't even know me yet. I am not the alt of anyone, nor am I the spokesperson of anyone. I am not doing anyone else's work either… My question to you is simple: Would you be interested in interviewing with me and give me information about your organization and its role in Second Life? This would be your chance to tell me your side of the story as well. This is important to me because I strongly believe that Second Life is about to die as a platform and someone needs to document its history.”
And I stopped contacting him afterwards. But I thought that there maybe, just maybe, are some rational people among the ranks of JLU. I wasn’t mistaken: Greenlantern was kind enough to talk to me but was too scared to tell me anything BUT the press release. I kindly thanked him for his time and logged off.
Just to set the record straight since Kalel has accused me of this in his note to the Proactive Security folks: I don’t harass people over e-mail, IM, or in-world. If the Proactive Security people think that I am logging onto Second Life and repeatedly soliciting interviews from a list of people and harassing them, they are sorely mistaken. And they will wait for a long time for this to happen. I don’t beg for a date, I get asked on a date.
I wasn’t initially going to post this. Kalel getting bend out of shape over me is no-news, really. He should have better things to do with his time, like fighting crime, right? But several days ago, Angel Fluffy responded to a message that I had sent him four months ago. It was apparent to me that he was no longer in Second Life nor was he on Skype. He probably logged onto Skype after many months and saw my message and replied to me in the affirmative, saying that he would talk to me. But then he suddenly backed out. I can only assume that, from the notices that went out to the Proactive Security, that he believed Kalel’s mad fabrications. Fair enough -- again, not an important incident in my life.
I am almost done with the Second Life chapters. And I must confess, the section does not paint a very flattering picture of the anti-griefing organizations in Second Life. But, let this be noted: this is not because I didn’t try to include their side of the story, but rather, they refused to talk to me on account of their insecurities.
Let’s be clear: I never misrepresented myself to anyone. I never “falsely” claimed to be a researcher. Peter Ludlow is not an IP thief. He wasn’t even around when the Wrong Hands leaked the Wiki, his paper was merely reporting on the news story. In fact, Brainiac, from what I gather, had been leaked many times by various other groups (not just the Wrong Hands) prior to the last incident. More important, Kalel should thank his stars that Pixeleen isn’t taking him to court for filing frivolous DMCA complaints. But this may, of course, change in the long run. Who knows? Time will tell.
But, I do believe that we have to look what’s really at issue here as we’re building this brave new world in cyberspace.
There is one rather minor conclusion and another, a larger one, that relates to digital culture in general. Both of these should be addressed here:
The most immediate conclusion is regarding the griefer pathology. I’ve been doing research on griefing since 2006. But never, prior to my interaction with Kalel, did I understands the damaging effects that griefing could have on a person’s psyche. After the series of paranoid e-mails I received from him, it was clear to me that the Wrong Hand didn’t just breach the JLU’s security (which was a joke to begin with), but also, effectively turned the JLU into a paranoid collective. It used to be a group that fought for peace, order, and society, that’s for sure. But now, it cloaked itself in secrecy, painfully trying to hide its scars by flinging false accusations to where they don’t belong. Perhaps it was in this respect that the Wrong Hands was most successful.
The other issue to be noted here is a larger one that pertains to society as a whole.
The frivolous use of DMCA/intellectual property claims to stifle creativity, but in this case, to avoid accountability, silence freedom of speech, and jam open discussion. The copyright war that is being waged today (not just in the case of Kalel, who lost his battle with the Alphaville Herald) is a war of prohibition. Characterizing the Digital Millenium Copyright Act (DMCA) as “Orwellian,” Lawrence Lessig (2004), a law professor, openly claims that this law is frequently invoked to control the spread of information. “The DMCA was enacted as a response to copyright owners’ first fear about cyberspace. The fear that copyright effectively was dead” (Free Culture, 157). It is a way to stifle creativity, valid research, and dissenting opinions. And it criminalizes the society. I would argue that the issues that are taking place in Second Life are merely the mirror image of this problem. Make no mistake, popcorn farts or not: this is the Wikileaks generation. The US government couldn’t stop it; I doubt a group wearing spandex will.