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June 22, 2007



These are really good ideas. You clearly have tagged some of the principal strengths of virtual worlds that I hope will be part of the conversation with MacArthur and others as they pursue their in-world explorations.

I have a lot of questions about what a positive, in-world philanthropic presence would look like, other than as a publicity piece. I noted in my question to Fanton today that foundations have not exactly been quick on the draw in relation to web 2.0. What hope do we have that they are going to be poised to utilize Web 3.D effectively?

Prokofy Neva

I think foundations as entities are tied to the dying dinosaurs of old rust-belt industries and old media, and so they naturally move ponderously. However, they have the money, so they get to do that.

It's hard to convince a foundation to pay for a lot of seemingly frivolous stuff like podcasting and video blogging on web pages when they will all will ask (or should ask) the question Fanton asked: how are you tying this to the real world?

I don't think that the answer to that should be for non-profits to rush to make up stuff. I think they have to say: "We aren't." Or rather, the answer shouldn't be, "We are using virtual worlds to solve water shortages in Africa or stop attacks on civilians in Darfur" -- because then only facile answers and really flimsy-looking stuff will result, like expensive builds or builds that only get a traffic of 500.

So if they can answer "We're using this for exploring, internal meetings, training, consolidating a presence on the web, finding new audiences overseas" -- whatever more realistic thing they can say, that's good. But that will take time. And most foundations want a flashier result for their investment which they will still translate into media hits and policy changes reflected in public opinion and ultimately legislation. Those are all their tried-and-true formulas.

So I think to take a place like Ford Foundation which has nary a podcast or a video on you'd have to show them a proof-of-concept campaign or merely some usage metrics that show podcasts are downloaded by many drivers and subway commuters to fit into their busy schedules, that's how they consume media, and podcasting is betting better in quality and building communities because they've figured out how to attract advertisers.

Or you show them some good events or some footage from Global Witness or whatever -- if that's your aim, to convince them to use Web 2.0 as a technology -- but that's where I think this always jams. People only talk about the technology, and get funding only to talk about it some more. What can they really use it for.

As Fanton suggested campaigning for the ICC with a future administration in mind, I suppose you could try to get people sold on the ICC by looking at its existing track record, finding ways to reassure them that it won't be used frivolously against GIs, and show them how the U.S. could be setting an example -- but just as ICC is a very hard sell in SL because of the issues of sovereignty and the staggering cause of international justice, so it will be in SL, and I'm not sure I'd pick the ICC as the issue to campaign with in SL.

I simply would go broader and deeper. With the aim of building awareness of the ICC as one of many justice goals, I'd start a lot of discussions and specific projects. Perhaps just one campaign on closing Guantanamo using the UN's and others recommendations, perhaps a broader discussion listing Lindens and all those around them in the problem they are creating with code-as-law versus the rule of law as it has been known through the ages.

Why talk about the ICC to Philip Linden, when Philip Linden is busy building something that makes not only the ICC irrelevant, but the local courthouse irrelevant, because he will merely make a lot of on-off switches/tools that don't attempt to deter or punish miscreants, but merely protect people from their criminality?

If all that happens with Second Life is that intellectuals from the humanities like Jonathan Fanton and all his grantees have a serious and long-term dialogue and collaboration with Philip Linden and his cohorts, that will be something, and an urgent task, really.

Writing a further piece on this now, and will go on thinking about it.

Lucy Bernholz

Fabulous thoughts!

Solar Legion

Can we get real for a second here?

The only 'miscreants' in Second Life are the ones out to crash the grid, all else is a matter of international law.

Prokofy Neva

International law is notoriously unenforceable, but it has powers of rhetorical enforcement that are still largely untapped. And the enforcement capacity is growing.

SL miscreants are an authentic RL problem. If large swathes of young people are caught up in making other peoples' lives miserable; if they actively sabotage the efforts to make a civil society and a civilization out of virtual worlds, that's really a major concern, just as RL criminality is. It's not trivial, and does have real costs in human and financial terms.

Solar Legion

The only 'crime' in Second Life is the sort that involves crashing the grid or affecting the income of an individual.

All else is subject to the laws of your current country and your own perspective.

In Second Life one cannot kill, rape, maim, or for that matter do anything to a person's avatar that said person does not wish to have happen. Teleporting away, exiting the client, both options as well as others ensure that the only real crimes are as stated.

Prokofy Neva

No, Solar, the TOS and CS governs the grid, not only RL law, and it is enforced, for better and worse. "House rules" on each individual sim also govern behaviour. You're just plain wrong on this. I understand you *wish* it to be so, because you find something deeply offensive and vulgar about people who take virtuality seriously. Too bad. They find something deeply offensive and vulgar about *not* taking it seriously and you'll simply have to accept that.

One can indeed kill, rape, and maim in SL, and against an avatar's will. Such crimes are not *equivalent* to RL crimes but they are *analagous* and have the same RL dynamics and have the same disruptive capacity. You can kill people by teleporting them home against their will, even crashing their game. Rape happens constantly, as people unexpectedly invade personal spaces, click on X-cites, harass, confuse, bully people in situations where, no, they do not have the capacity always to think to teleport away. Sometimes they are frozen or blocked and often teleporting doesn't even work. No, that's not viable, and you need to stop insisting on it.

Teleporting away is something you, in your smug tekkie certainty, may feel you can do any time. It is not always the responsible or viable option. The surprise factor is major. I don't expect that standing on my property with no one in sight that suddenly, an avatar will come up with a huge prim hammer and whack me over the head -- and yet it happens.

You don't get out -- or in -- much.

Please stop trying to put your own particular worldview over on people by merely asserting it over and over. We got the point. You have a belief system. That set of beliefs stipulates that virtuality isn't real and has no consequences, anything goes, and the most grotesque and heinous actions can occur without harm.

Other people have a set of beliefs that cries: bullshit. It can and does cause harm, sometimes grievous. A world which enables people like you to exhibit callous and cruel indifference -- and insist on enforcing that casual cruelty -- isn't a better one, nor one that people will live in. So knock it off.

Logging off is not an option to solve virtual world problems. They can and should have their solutions inworld, in their own terms. There's no reason why refugee flight should be blessed and institutionalized as the only response to constant terror in virtual worlds.

Solar Legion

Sorry Prokofy - due to the very nature of Second Life one cannot rape, kill, maim or any other such thing. This is a fact.

It is also a fact that second Life is a program. You and others may view it as more than such but that does not change the base fact.

Sorry again that you missed the point, Real Life laws against murder and the like to not apply to a world made up of avatars.

Clicking on an X-cite part? Not rape, those can be deactivated not to mention the fact that rape implies harm to a real person.

Teleporting you home? Nope, not killing at all. Killing infers that a being can no long return or move about whatsoever. Now it would be 'killing' if you wish to call it that to delete a person's account on avatar 'death'.

We get the point, you wish to view everything that happens in Second Life as an extension of real life and wish to regulate it as such.

Indifference? Nope, wrong is a computer program, it will always be a computer program. Realizing and accepting this is not indifference.

A world which seeks to link that which does not exist to the real world, a world where each and every person is somehow affected by pixels on a screen is not a better world. it is a world riddled with undue pain, suffering and other such things which would not exist if people stopped taking things like Second Life so seriously.

We have enough problems in Real Life, problems that are far more urgent, than having to worry about what Joe and Jane Avatar are doing. So please knock it off.

Terror? Sorry, terror is wondering if your city is going to be targeted by some nut case with a nuclear missile.

If you are going to make an attempt to debate this, please do so in a manner which does not make untrue assumptions of motive or anything similar.

Sam Davidson

Nice perspective here. I think this is one of the best summaries I've read on 'new philanthropy.'

Beth Kanter

This is awesome!Thanks for the thoughtful post!

Economic Mip

"The problem is corruption."

There I said it. However there are ideas, and there are actions to enact those ideas. I say go for it, show this in action.


Desmond Shang

What I'd love to see for SL philanthropy - a percentage skim, and a target. Like some credit cards can do for award programs.

Sounds crazy, but I'd probably be able to donate more to charities if I could get my head around the percentages. Actual $L amount - who knows, not critical.

But if it is, say, 1% or 2% of sales - I could get my business strategy to accomodate for that quite easily.

If we all could choose to get $L 99 instead of $L 100 on a sale voluntarily - and we could target that last $L 1 - we could change the world.

Rhiannon Chatnoir

If you want to read a bit of what teens in SL had to say during the MacArthur Philanthropy event you can read our blog post about it here:

A comment from one teen in particular summed up the effect the event had on many teens who participated. "After hearing the conversation Phillip had today, I just feel like I want to be part of something to help mankind."

Prokofy Neva

Rhiannon, that's great, and I'm glad for it, but you know me, I'm just not one for gushing sentiments and feel-good vagaries. It isn't hearing Philip that really did it; it's hearing, if anything, Fanton, who was determined to bring serious ideas and pose some challenges (like what are we doing about the ICC? About Northern Uganda or Darfur where ultimately there has been more loss of life? and so on).

If he listed only to Philip, he wouldn't so much be inspired to go out and 'help mankind' because what Philip said is that you can use SL to make a relationship or a business, and meet the lover or partner in RL. And what Philip said is that we shouldn't do anything about Internet porn but just make tools for choices and filtering. Philip talked about empowering people -- but to do what, wasn't exactly clear. Maybe he doesn't view it as his job to say.

Groups like Global Kids do try to fill in the blanks. But where I get critical of them is when they do stuff like launch a campaign on the teen grid to talk about sex trafficking of kids in Thailand and get everybody wearing bracelets about that, while ignoring that right here in Second Life, on the adult grid, people can become enslaved in Gor and BDSM cults seemingly of their own will.

Is Global Kids unaware or um...agnostic...about such "consensual lifestyle choices"? They might be better off starting frank roundtables with kids about online relationships, how power is portrayed and handled in them, and how to make informed choices and the kinds of cults that often suck people in. Yet...they're too politically correct to take on the BDSM crowd that these very teenagers will be facing in one or two or three years, and likely some percentage will get ensnared in it for lack of thought and concern on the part of those teaching and engaging them.

It's great to do something about sex trafficking in Thailand; you can also start closer to home with the wacky and sinister cult generated right across the river here in Queens by an untenured professor who wrote the Gor books. You know, charity starts at home.

I've got a big critique of how the teen grid has been handled -- will save it for another day.

Meanwhile, the take-home here is that people are inspired, no matter whether by Philip or Jonathan or whatever -- or merely the prospect of getting a grant. Now what?

Economic Mip is right to say, ok, nice ideas, but what about actions.

I've proposed little things that can be done, say, on Iraq in the other article I did in the Herald, and I might even do them myself.

If you did nothing else but tried to teach kids to read newspapers critically, and look for multiple sources -- and not merely accept Internet Wikipedia half-baked mash-ups, either -- that would be progress toward getting them involved in "helping mankind".

Congratulations on taking what is surely the most stunning, clear, and sharp photo of the event. How did you do that???!!!1

Prokofy Neva

Desmond, I wonder if you could get that percentage idea to work merely by using one of those typical vendor devices that split profits.

Or perhaps a group-deeded object but among your own avatars, with one avatar's proceeds set aside to be the "charitar".

Group-deeded objects are to be avoided due to griefing and the group exploit bug, but perhaps some day could be viable.

I personally am not a big fan of this "shaving off 1-2 percent" concept. Some people check off a box on their income tax form that says they are giving $1 US dollar to save owls or widelife in general, and others feel aggravated by that and wonder why there isn't a dollar box to save *people*.

Check-offs are what communist systems use -- you were endlessly having to give a dollar for peace or work overtime for children or have 2 percent clipped for this or that.

I don't like the idea, common to communism and capitalism in extremis, that people are sheep that you have to sheer. That you have to take their natural inclination to shop, or their need to work for a living or be dependent on some larger scheme to shear them.

I think the whole point of a micropayments charity scheme in SL has to be about consciousness. I'm not a big fan, for example, of that "red" campaign with ads all over town, where you are supposed to buy these stylish red shirts or white slacks and "help AIDS".

AIDS is overblown totally as a cause, sucks up lots of resources, and it is now getting so people in Africa or Latin American even try to contrive how to fit under AIDS benefit programs so that their other needs can be met. Why only combat AIDS when you need to combat hunger and transportation costs or it's pointless to treat AIDS, etc. In fact, the fund that the "red" campaign goes to deals with TB and malaria, too, which have more cases in some countries -- still, I don't like unconsciousness.

I don't like the idea that a few "enlightened elites" who happen to be at the levers of massive ad and media campaigns can decide how to "shear" people.

They have to spend gadzillions on advertising, and it probably leads to inflated prices of this "help" product.

I'd rather just give to a non-profit devoted to AIDS work or multi-purpose work in Africa than be sheared in an ad campaign that also has the benefit of setting these moguls up to be seen as having enhanced reputations and being influential.

I read a funny thing today in my daughter's teen mag. It talked about this new starlet on some TV show who said the whole reason she had become an actress was so she could do relief work in third-world countries, that she figured she could get the media and the funds needed to travel and distribute aid by being a highly-paid actress.

Barry Joseph

Prokofy, Thank you for starting this important conversation. If there is one thing Friday's event was about is that MacArthur is interested in the very issues you raise - how do virtual worlds change social institutions like philanthropies. I think we will see this conversation ripple out over the next year, and I hope it can be reflected within the SLCC as well.

"Congratulations on taking what is surely the most stunning, clear, and sharp photo of the event." Wow, thanks! Which ones did you like? They were just taken on a good mac.

Re: Gor and BDSM cults... I'd have to say we don't deal with those issues because we don't know much about them. Which is not to say that ignorance is an excuse, but more that you are talking about things in the main grid - and we are working in the teen grid. It's not their world (at least not yet). I think your point is taken - that talking about sex trafficking in Thailand is interesting but it is important to address issues that directly affect their lives.

That is what Global Kids is all about - not about teaching teens to recognize that something is happening "over there" but, more importantly, that the thing happening "over there" is connected to them as well. For example, one teen who helped build our game about poverty is Haiti, learned that his impoverish neighborhood in Brooklyn created not only similar challenges that youth encounter in impoverish communities around the world, but that, in many ways, he had opportunities they could never dream of. His experience taught him both about the world and changed how he thought about his own community.

The maze against child sex trafficking, to be frank, did NOT do that. It was about "the thing happening elsewhere" (e.g. it did not address sex trafficking in the U.S.). But we have learned from that are always looking to strengthen our attempt to translate our offline programs into Second Life.

Hopefully our summer projects with the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum and UNICEF will better address those concerns.

Finally, the I.C.C. is a GREAT topic for Second Life. We spent four months with our after school machinima program developing a six minute piece about the I.C.C. and child soldiers in Uganda, to be released in a week, and filmed all in Second Life.

Prokofy Neva

That's a good answer, Barry, thank you.

Are Macs somehow less laggy than PCs on SL?

I think the conversation to have on the teen grid is basically one that groups like yours have to accept the challenge to discuss: forming online relationships and staying safe. A lot of this stuff is done in the schools, but superficially -- being actually in the virtual world seems more realistic and likely to have more impact.

I think a lot of chic modern do-gooding is attached to stuff "over there" that is just more fun for actresses and former presidents and stuff because they can do just a little and have a huge impact -- and able to leave it behind more easily after the whirlwind jet tour of refugee camps.

It's less sexy to work on things like getting better employment and health care for single mothers and after-school programs of merit for their children.

Every single after school program in my area has closed due to lack of funding; that leaves the Salvation Army, God bless them, and the Catholics, whose resources are limited depending on their parish. A public school that offers only a basketball team or a chess club is just not covering the need. Just like banks had to learn to stop closing at 3 pm in the modern world, so schools need to stop closing at 3 pm and stay open to 6 pm, like the banks have been forced to do.

I think it's great you were able to bring an ICC campaign to life. It's not a topic that "sings" for a lot of people. That sounds like a great project. I'm glad you are willing to criticize those projects that were less successful. I guess I have my doubts that machinima, which is so labour intensive and requires extra equipment, is really the answer.

The rest of my critique of the teen grid is not for my blog as I don't wish to expose my son's privacy.

Barry Joseph

Prokofy, What a tantalizing last line!

And in regards to the impact of A Child's War, well, we'll just have to watch those view numbers of youtube. The impact on the 25 students in the program is undeniable. But how effective is the machinima as an educational and outreach tool? Their demo project, on digital media and youth, has been viewed almost a thousand times since we launched it last month. If a thousand people in the first month watch A Child's War and become aware of child soldiers and the I.C.C. trial as a result, that will be a good start. But if 25,000 people watch it, or 400,000 - all feasible numbers if people pick it up - that can be an effective campaign, especially if the bulk of viewers are in the U.S., which has refused to sign on to the court.

So let's check back in in six months and see how effective socially-conscious machinima can be as a form of youth media.

Prokofy Neva

Barry, this is why I find what you are doing so completely -- well, out of touch.

The existence of the Lord's Army and its backers in neighbouring countries aren't caused by the U.S., or because the U.S. hasn't signed the ICC, and people like you steeped in all the leftist memes tend to forget real stuff like that.

The U.S. is in fact irrelevant; whether it signs or not, the ICC is still an effective tool to try the crimes of non-state actors in countries where governments are unable or unwilling to shoulder the burden.

But it's an expensive, complicated, and very long-term project that is largely symbolic. The best justice is always local, and international justice can only complement it and sustain it. It's good that it goes forward, but the solutions to the crimes committed by the Lord's Army aren't merely in some facile ICC affirmation, or promoting the U.S. signing of it -- it's good if they sign it, but what you've got saddled with here is the result of an entire tendency of the human rights movement in general to look for "surrogate advocacy" opportunities related to the U.S. merely because they are easy to do.

The government of Sudan, the government of Uganda -- they all have a lot more to do with these problems than anything the U.S. can or can't do.

Or take Russia, refusing to sign some resolutions or language on children in armed conflict because it refuses to put the non-state actors' list on -- because then Chechnya would be opened up.

For a long time, even the Western countries in a position to do something about the LRA basically directed the UN to treat it as a police problem, not a problem of international security, and it wasn't until the murder and mayhem spilled over the border that NGOs were finally able to get the SC to put it on the agenda.

You'd do better writing to South Africa, a great power of Africa now on the Security Council, and asking them to do a lot more to promote sanctions against the LRA, or write to the African Union -- or do a 100 other things. But they're more complicated. They involve having to sometimes write snail mail because email doesn't work or doesn't exist. And this is where I start to lose patience with facile campaigns directed at the U.S. government -- it's a profoundly misguided thing to both ask the U.S. to do more and be involved in the world more (Sudan, ICC, Kyoto), and then five minutes later turn around and tell the U.S. to be involved less and get out (Iraq, Afghanistan). A new democratic foreign policy is a more complex thing than a few easy campaigns.

I guess I'm fed up with facile and vacuous surrogate advocacy in the U.S. and adding it to virtual worlds as something to do, while it might be a great use of virtual worlds in a way, seems to perpetuate the whole unreality of it.

Do something more real. Ask your teenagers to turn to the Chinese student in the seat next to them and ask them what their families, their organizations, their businesses are doing about the Chinese government's support of these murderous African regimes. Now go down the row and talk to the Russian student.

See how hard it is? It's not easy, dealing with the causes of conflict.

Barry Joseph

Of course. That's why, in part, the video is not advocating or supporting any particular campaign beyond awareness raising to make both the conflict and the I.C.C. case something with which people can be more familiar and, perhaps, become motivated to learn more about.

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