At the event sponsored by the MacArthur Foundation and Global kids yesterday on Annenberg Island in SL, we could find ourselves on the horns of a dilemma. If you're going to advocate real-life freedom of expression protection in SL, then you have to suffer racism and vandalism -- because it's all pixels (speech); yet we don't even have a free forums and the removal of the "permaban" and "any reason/no reason" crippling of free speech such as to take governance in our hands sufficiently to mitigate this vandalism.
On the one hand, the meeting was taken over by discussion of the Patriotic Nigras, the racist, anti-Semitic, destructive griefing group in SL. So score one for their Leninist Dept. of Agitation and Propaganda, because once again, they got the liberals to obsess and hang-wring about them for a psychoanalytical 50 minutes.
That meant that Jack Balkin, an expert on the First Amendment and the Internet, could posit that in the name of free speech and protection of First Amendment values, while you found the PNs repugnant, you had to tolerate their hateful, juvenile, racist, inane expression in SL.
I suddenly realized for Jack and apparently Annenberg, anything happening in a virtual world is merely speech. Anything. It's all speech, as if words/text/voice on a website. It's not behaviour or actions, so they can write the entire thing off as a freedom of expression issue, and never really delve deeply into property rights, privacy, etc. -- although of course, many in the audience who live and work in the immersive environment of Second Life and other worlds want them to do just that: to understand that it is not "just speech".
On the other hand, Jonathan Fanton had some tough questions for Linden Lab. How do they make the rules? What due process do they offer for termination of accounts? What about this vandal behaviour described in Wired? (It seemed as if the thrust of Fanton's invocation of Wired was more of the type "what do you do with people threatening to destroy civil society" but it may have been "how do you handle people who are criminals under your TOS but who are merely engaging in free speech -- I couldn't quite tell which it was).
And here Robin Linden, for the first time ever in the history of Linden Lab that I can tell, condemned griefing as vandalism and as "like a gang" in real life that destroys a neighbourhood. Oh, sure, you imagine that LL condemns griefing -- they prosecute it occasionally and it shows up on their website. But even when Philip mentioned in passing that LL had banned "60 accounts" (it seemed to be only about 25) back in October 2006, he didn't really condemn the groups. Now, Robin was condemning them -- and that's something I've actually urged them to do for a long time. I think that until you can separate right from wrong, and separate speech on a website under the First Amendment from vandalism in a world that fits under any state's criminal code, you don't have a world. What the Patriotic Nigras do isn't cultural; it's criminal. The question is how to apply the law. Here Benjamin Duranske, whose prosecutorial zeal reaches instantly toward banking experiments, all of which he views as unsustainable Ponzi schemes, can't help us -- he doesn't find what griefers do in virtual worlds wrong at all -- he thinks it's annoying, but not real, and therefore real-life law can't apply to things like "a rape in cyberspace".