It’s a fact of life that griefing is part of the subculture of Second Life. It’s not necessarily an agreeable subculture or one we particularly want or need, but it is there all the same. I say this not to excuse what goes on, but to underline the fact that right or wrong, most of us in hearing about it tend to shrug our shoulders and then carry on with our lives.
There are times, however, when griefing – which is actually crossing the line each and every time it occurs – crosses a the line not only in terms of resigned acceptance, but also in terms of criminal behaviour.
The fashion world in SL has recently been subject to this latter situation. This saw an SL user already complicit in copying skins and shapes, and whose profile boasted they had scant regard for the ToS together with outright threats against content creators, start to use griefing as an attempt to extort money from others. They did so by crashing large fashion events and then demanding payment in order to not crash future events.
Much of what happened in this matter appeared to go unreported outside of fashion circles – few blog (this one included) reported on the matter, despite the problems apparently occurring over a span of months. The Lab also appeared unwilling to engage in the matter, despite extortion being a criminal act. In the end, many of those affected by the situation saw no other choice than to themselves disrupt in-world user group meetings in order to try to voice their concerns and frustrations directly (if unfortunately inappropriately) to the few remaining Lab employees users can actually contact nowadays.
(I say “inappropriately” not as an admonishment here, but because those who were confronted by this extortionist were demanding direct action from those Lab personnel the least well equipped to provide meaningful feedback on matters.)
In the end, the approach did appear to work, inasmuch as the account of the individual concerned was banned from Second Life and all content relating to it (apparently ripped from other merchants) was removed from the Marketplace.
Of course, in an age and situation where alt accounts are freely available, the removal of a single account is no guarantee the individual responsible has actually been removed from SL – or more particularly that their modus operandi will not be repeated elsewhere by others.
Yordie Sands brings word that the latter appears to have happened, and the use of extortion has been taken up elsewhere. Writing yesterday, she details a situation where Junkyard Blues, a renowned SL blues club run by Kiff Clutterbuck and Dina Petty, has been recently subjected to repeated griefing attacks which comprised, in Kiff and Dina’s words, “Multiple griefers with blinding graphics card attacks and sim lag/crashes … In some instances the computers of many staff and patrons actually shut down or rebooted as a result of the attacks.”
Such was the frequency of the attacks that patrons began staying away from the venue. However this was not an “innocent” (if such a term can be used with any form of griefing) attack. Junkyard Blues were contacted and informed that if they handed over cash, the attacks would stop.
This is again extortion, plain and simple.
As a result of both the threats and the attacks, Junkyard Blues has been forced to resort to restricting access to their club to “members only”, which impacts both their business and their customers.
Since Yordie’s original post, there have been several blog reports on the matter, including one from Saffia Widdershins over at Prim Perfect, and a very incisive commentary on Second Life, griefing and the Lab from Honour McMillan. Both of these posts are so clear-cut on matters, they leave me with little more to say on the issue in many respects. However, I feel that comment is required, if only to raise another voice in the matter – particularly as I know that (and all ego aside when I say this) there are people at the Lab who routinely read this blog (Rod, I’m looking at you).
As Honour points out, the Lab has provisions in the ToS when it comes to matters of griefing. Namely, Section 8, which states among other things:
8.1 You agree to abide by certain rules of conduct, including the Community Standards and other rules prohibiting illegal and other practices that Linden Lab deems harmful.
8.3 You agree that you will not post or transmit Content or code that may be harmful, impede other users’ functionality, invade other users’ privacy, or surreptitiously or negatively impact any system or network.
8.3.iv: [You will not] Engage in malicious or disruptive conduct that impedes or interferes with other users’ normal use of the Service.
(All emphasis my own.)
Leaving aside, for the moment, the issue of extortion, all three of these points comprehensively cover both the situation being experienced by Junkyard Blues right now (which is also apparently being experienced by other venues and involving some of the same perpetrators, according to Kiff and Dina), and the situation experienced by members of the fashion community late in 2012.
While one might argue that when you provide an “open” system such as Second Life or OpenSim which promotes freedom of expression and creativity, there will inevitably be those who abuse that freedom, the fact is that this doesn’t absolve the Lab from being more proactive in managing their own platform in accordance with their own Terms of Service. While the Lab may well point to the Abuse Report system as evidence that they do take reports of anti-social behaviour seriously, the fact remains that the system remains ineffective, and the perception is that the ToS is little more than something the Lab can either apply or ignore entirely on a whim.
Whether or not the Lab applies or ignores its own ToS, it really has no choice in matters relating to the rule of law. Indeed, when it comes to illegal activities on the grid, the Lab would probably vigorously argue that it works hard to eliminate them from SL whenever and howsoever they occur.
Yet such reassurances are liable to be met with a cynical response, not only because of the aforementioned experience of those in the SL fashion industry who faced blatant attempts at extortion, but also because the Lab itself appears complicit in enabling such acts in the first place.
As Yordie reports, scripted devices capable of crashing a region are available via the Marketplace from L$50 upwards, as are a range of tools specifically aimed at direct attacks on other avatars, all in violation of the various parts of Section 8 of the ToS mentioned above. However, while they very well might violate the ToS, actually flagging / reporting them as doing so is next to impossible, simply because the Marketplace system does not provide users with any option for doing so.
While it might be argued that it is not possible to police any and all products appearing on the Marketplace, the fact that there is no way to flag these items as being in violation of the ToS tends undermines people’s faith in the Lab as a responsible and trustworthy service provider – and this is not good for the platform.
Second Life is already struggling under an inordinately heavy load – revenue is declining (with admittedly no easy fix), the economy has long been stagnant, new user sign-ups are failing to convert to retained users, and the press continue to perceive the platform about as failed as the proverbial Dodo is dead.
To be sure, removing weapons of mass disruption from the Marketplace is not going to eliminate all the malicious ills within Second Life, but when it comes to the intent to disrupt events and regions, be it for “the lolz” or more importantly to try to prevent criminal abuse of the platform, it would make a remarkably good start.
This is not an issue the Lab can afford to duck. They need to meet the challenge head-on and be seen to take appropriate action. If they fail to do so, then as Honour McMillan states in her closing remarks on the subject:
One of these days sim owners (and anybody who lost money or wound up with damaged equipment) are going to take legal action of their own. Not against the individual criminals causing and/or threatening financial and technical harm, but against the company that doesn’t enforce it’s own Terms of Service or attempt to impede behaviour which blatantly violates the laws of the physical world. The fact that they also enable this destructive activity will be the icing on the cake as far as a judgement is concerned.
Update 4th January, 2013: As per her comment below, Innula Zenovka passes on the following Linden-derived advice for dealing with SL Marketplace items which violate the ToS:
- If possible to go to the in-world shop that sells the items and submit the AR from there (AR the vending machine) for Harassment > Soliciting others to violate ToS, mentioning the MP advert in the body of the report
- If there is not an inworld shop, then give the Marketplace URL as the “Location of Abuse”.
- Yordie Sands: Relentless Griefing Attacks
- Saffia Widdershins: When will we get to grips with griefing?
- Honour McMillan: There is no Second Amendment in Second Life; Crimes & the Lack of Punishment