Policing Second Life: Guilt by Association

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.


  1. Crissa

    Taken offline is not the same as deleted. The island can return.

    Who’s being punished here? The University? How are they not responsible?

    If someone was sitting in your yard, smoking pot, setting fire to your neighbor’s cats… Would the police raid your home or not? Wild parties every night that draw the police are eventually going to draw more than just police.

    And in this situation, how are we not to hold the administrators of islands responsible for the behavior of their members, management, and then the guests they bring?

    I always hold my neighboring sims responsible for their guests’ actions.

  2. Mark Wallace

    I think the parallel is more along the lines of blogs and whether you believe commenters own their own words — in which case SL users would own their own actions.

    It’s definitely not the same as someone sitting in your yard, since the ownership in the two cases is very different.

  3. Prokofy Neva

    Mark, do you actually *read* the Herald? There are ample comments — and past stories — and I’m about to post another one with pictures — that illustrate that any notion of injustice here is completely out of line. You’re dangerously off on this one. I quite understand you desire to protect independence for the community; to give property rights and have due process — of which we have precious little in SL — but to claim that when gross, systematic, “emergent” crimes like this against the public are perpetrated, with property damages and emotional damages and every other kind of damages, over and over again, that somehow LL is required to keep open an island for “experimentation”. A web hosting company wouldn’t do this with a website constantly violating the TOS, griefing, publishing obscenity, etc; why are we to expect more of virtual worlds?

    There’s no notion of “the uninvolved” having their land taken away — where do you get that?! These are people who are *in on it, orchestrating it, and lying about it*. It’s amply documented, and the Lindens have even more resources than any outside media to determine if in fact the people who own and operate “Woodbury University” are consistently violating the TOS or not.

    You don’t get to keep crashing your own island (not to mention other people’s) deliberately, with Doomsday scripts, and expect then to hide behind an Eddie Haskel grin, Mark, with no consequences.

    The land is group-owned, those in the group are documented griefers, and they had to take responsibility.

    They’ve had warnings when they did this kind of griefing — on and off their own island — before, and they’ve sponsored loads of v-5/PN griefers as their “Woodbury Security” who have been banned and banned again as they appear on alts.

    Why should the Lindens keep supplying server space to these antics?

    You have absolutely no grounds for saying that LL has acted unfairly in “punishing Woodbury University itself” when we’ve never confirmed if WU authorized this particular use of their name and resources. Woodbury University — the RL entity — has been negligent at best and complicit at worst. I contacted this digital arts professor associated with the project weeks ago — he refused to speak to a Herald reporter and claimed they’d speak to RL press — and never did. RL administrators have answered inquiries from readers that they do not sponsor this island and are investigating removing the content.

    I dunno, Mark, maybe you need to come to Ravenglass and learn like I’ve been learning, when a dozen of these Woodbury “students” come and shove a giant penis into my face and grief me and my tenants, and then you’ll pass the course at “Woodbury U”.

  4. Mark Wallace

    I hear you Prok (although I didn’t take the time to read your entire comment), but I still feel that the *people* involved should feel the enforcement, not so much the institution. Just my opinion. You can’t stamp out bad behavior by driving it out of your back yard, it just shows up in someone else’s back yard eventually and before long you’re mandating that no one may have a back yard at all.

  5. Prokofy Neva

    Mark, can you realize that it isn’t that there is a configuration like this: “owners of sim who are innocent and oblivious” and “griefers who took advantage of them”. They’re all of a piece, they’re all in on it, it’s deliberate — and deceptive. They were given warnings, they’ve gone through loads of bans and re-appearing as alts and getting banned again, their sim was shut down once before, and they just kept continuing this nonsense.


  6. Prokofy Neva

    Mark, can you realize that it isn’t that there is a configuration like this: “owners of sim who are innocent and oblivious” and “griefers who took advantage of them”. They’re all of a piece, they’re all in on it, it’s deliberate — and deceptive. They were given warnings, they’ve gone through loads of bans and re-appearing as alts and getting banned again, their sim was shut down once before, and they just kept continuing this nonsense.


    You can’t stamp out bad behaviour by giving it a pass and whitewashing it, either. By taking down Satyr and Woodbury U, after they were used deliberately, consciously, systematically, and maliciously over and over as bases of operations to grief people and crash all or part of the grid, it’s like a crack house, the authorities finally close it down.

  7. Stephen Zenith

    Of course, the question I have, is what happens when griefers operate from LL-administered Mainland? Double standards again.

  8. Prokofy Neva

    I wasn’t aware that the U.S. Government and NATO took away Afghanistan’s webspace or virtual property in a virtual world, Hathead. Or its RL property.

  9. Ace Albion

    From what I read across different forums, these griefers weren’t so much “in Woodbury U’s yard” as they were “in its lounge, with their feet up on the table, and their own set of keys.”

    I think that’s a different situation, if true, than holding someone responsible for stuff that goes on in genuinely open land/groups.

  10. Prokofy Neva

    Ace, I don’t know what you’ve read, but from all my research and inworld experience about Woodbury U, I have to conclude that it’s a criminal conspiracy, i.e. all of the people involved had the intent to grief and cause havoc and disruption, and that *is* the ‘art” and “free expression” they are engaged in. It’s not as if a couple of miscreants got in past the security and fooled around. The entire thing is staged, planned, and executed to push the limits and cause havoc. Every interview, griefing posse, picture, chatlog, eyewitness report gathered from anyone *outside* the group of Woodbury itself, which is massively spinning this as part of the con, can tell you that. And ultimately, the Lindens concluded the same thing.

  11. Ace Albion

    That’s my point, Prokofy. Walker is anguished by the prospect of a sim owner being held accountable for what a gang of rascals got up to in the yard, while he/she was out of town. He’s painted this whole picture of innocent ignorance on the part of the owners.

    But so far, everything I’ve read says that they’re not random ruffians off the street, they’re invited guests. Maybe invited by the stupid teenage daughter of the house, not the parents, but invited by the family by someone left in charge of the house nevertheless. That makes them responsible, I would think, if it’s true, and make Linden Lab’s actions reasonable.

  12. Prokofy Neva

    Ace, I understand the concern, but it’s irrelevant here. Sim owners have the tools to control their sim. When they get multiple warnings of problems; when they’ve been through several rounds of griefing and crashing and alts being removed, then LL is acting properly to take action. I think you can’t make some blanket “no guilt by association” faux-liberal concern here when in fact it’s not about “association” but about planned, methodical, deliberate, calculated conspiracy to deliberately grief and lie about it. RL law codes address this problem of groups acting in a concerted fashion with overt acts — it’s called “conspiracy.” I haven’t made this conclusion hastily; it comes from long observation over nearly 2 years of watching this particular set of people — and it’s the same ones over and over again — perpetrate griefing operations on SL. I can conclude that this is NOT some problem of a few rogue kids playing up in somebody’s sandbox, but a methodical operation to distort, lie, deceive, distract. I mean, read all the articles we’ve done on the Herald. Come and witness it some time.

    I think if you don’t wish to hear me out on this because you think I’m “tinfoiling,” you have only to ask yourself:

    o why many of the members of “Woodbury Security” are now banned, and not by “guilt of association,” but for documented griefing attacks

    o why Tizzers Foxchase, the “Woodbury administrator” was fired from her RL job over this entier saga

    o why Prof. Clift is unable to answer basic questions, like where is his course reading list, website, etc.

    What you must realize is that this group operates by deep deception. They join groups and come on sims to try to create havoc and to spread the “guilt by association” meme on people they don’t like. They then form deliberately provocative griefing groups and then pretend that they’re all innocent and go around saying like Eddie Haskell, gee Mrs. Linden, what a lovely dress.

    Anyway, all Walker has to do is spend about an hour more studying this situation to get it. If he doesn’t wish to read my posts or spend the time, I understand, and I appreciate that it’s far easy to write facile blasts against the Lindens for being evil and confiscating a sim.

  13. Prokofy Neva

    Ace — basically, it’s not even about “invited guests” but about deliberate planning ahead of time to pull off the whole caper.