What do you do when a group of troublemakers is disrupting the operation of your virtual world? If you’re Linden Lab, which runs Second Life, you ignore the griefers themselves and simply go after the owners of the land they happen to be operating from. Big props to our managing editor over at the Second Life Herald, Pixeleen Mistral, for catching the story of southern California’s Woodbury University, which had its private region in SL deleted a couple of days ago. Why would the Lab wipe Woodbury’s investment? Because a group of SL residents who were not part of the university and who have long been accused of causing trouble have apparently been using the Woodbury land to build and test their disruptive devices. There’s definitely culpability on the part of both the griefers and the university, but LL has shown some really poor judgment in the way they’ve handled the situation thus far.
According to the email in which the Lab lays out its reasons for the deletion (see the Herald for the full email), LL found continued “inappropriate uses” of the Woodbury University region. I’m sure the uses were inappropriate, but the problem is that they were not being undertaken by the owners of the land. LL has punished the university itself, and helped stifle the chance to learn more about how educational experiments in the metaverse can be conducted, simply because they can’t be bothered to find a way to punish the virtual “criminals” themselves.
This is especially maddening given the fact that the groups allegedly involved are outgrowths of groups that have been accused of griefing Second Life for years now. There’s no doubt that punishment should be meted out here, and some of the individuals involved have no doubt been hit with the ban stick. But Linden Lab has thrown the baby out with the bathwater, punishing Woodbury directly for the transgressions of people who have nothing to do with the institution. To be sure, an administrator of the Woodbury region (but not, it seems, a Woodbury employee) was involved in the “inappropriate” behavior. But the summary deletion of the region indicates that Linden Lab isn’t willing to take the time to make users accountable for their actions.
Instead, the Lab seems to feel that landowners (i.e., those making use of LL’s de facto hosting service) should be responsible for what goes on in their regions, but should not enjoy the autonomy that usually adheres to such responsibility. This is an unfortunate state of affairs, especially when the LL Terms of Service and Community Standards are so vague, and their enforcement so variable. If LL is to continue to advertise their world as a place ripe for commerce, learning and social interaction, they will have to step up to the plate and take some responsibility themselves: for making clear what is and isn’t allowed in their world, and for enforcing those rules fairly and consistently. Otherwise, it becomes a losing proposition for third parties to create any kind of experience within Second Life, when the risk of losing that investment is so much higher than it should be. Disappointing.