Over the past few days the Live Journal community was in an uproar over Six Apart’s move to delete what they considered objectionable material. I first read about it on Boing Boing (Link), then on Mashable (Link), and then on numerous sites. C|Net carried the news (Link) and one look at the comments should provide some sense of just how upset LJ users were; I rarely see that many comments on any C|Net story.
The backlash wasn’t just swift, it was also sufficiently motivating to elicit an apology from Six Apart’s CEO, Barak Berkowitz (Link) and an ongoing evaluation/restoration of previously deleted journals.
In the meantime, Linden Lab has been going through similar difficulties stemming from stories surrounding the investigation of a German news organization into reports of adults pretending to be virtual children inside Second Life and sometimes engaging in simulated sexual activities. Linden Lab had previously maintained a widely-understood “hands-off” policy regarding such benign adult virtual activity, but laws against “virtual child pornography” are apparently more strict in Germany than in the U.S., and Linden Lab is reported to have expansion plans for Europe.
Similar to the “Warriors for Innocence” types who contributed to the initial clampdown on Live Journal, a seemingly small but extremely vocal group of Second Life residents has been taking this opportunity to push Linden Lab to clamp down on what they consider objectionable material. Apparently it’s worked, because earlier this evening Linden Lab started down the same road as Six Apart by indicating they’d be more forcefully restricting user behavior (Link); and not just of the kind most residents had been debating, but a much broader range including “graphic violence” of the sort seen in many videogames.
However, one look at the comments on the “official” Linden Lab blog certainly casts doubt on their assertion that the actions are being taken as a result of “community” input. The truth is, there is no “community” in Second Life; it’s a collection of groups and individuals, most of whom are oblivious to Linden Lab’s policies and announcements.
Taken in combination with Linden Lab’s actions in the wake of the German news report (reversing their earlier position and banning accounts without notice), some residents are wondering when other freedoms allowed in the United States will be taken away as a result of some other nation’s laws, especially when that nation accounts for a significant percentage of the Second Life population as Germany does. When countries like China start becoming too important to ignore, will Linden Lab do what Yahoo and others have done before them – hand over names to government officials?
Between this and some other bad news earlier today (Link), it’s not looking good for Linden Lab. The dream of Second Life becoming the “future internet” is fading fast for those who believed. I’m glad I wasn’t one of them.