Adults to be banned from Second Life mainland


Sigh! I’ve got so many things already queued up to post about, why did they have to do this now? But for a change I feel pretty strongly about some Important SL Issue Of The Day, so I ought to strike whilst the iron is hot, eh?

What’s this all about?

Linden Lab have just announced that all “Adult” content will be removed from the existing parts of the Second Life mainland, and moved to other places: private islands whose owners have tagged them “Adult”, and a new “Adult Continent” which will be a peer of, but not directly attached to any of, the existing mainland continents. These other places will be accessible only by people who have “age verified”, by giving LL some reason to believe that they are probably 18 or over.

Are they really going to do that?

I think the most likely answer to that is yes, they’re going to do just what they’ve announced. In the past they have on various occasions (the whole Open Spaces thing for instance) announced something Draconian, gotten lots of negative feedback, and done something milder instead; this either represents admirable flexibility to the opinions of the Residents, or (for the more paranoid) represents a conscious strategy of pretending they’re about to do something awful, so that we’ll complain less when they then do the slightly less awful thing that they were actually planning all along.

That’s not necessarily the case, of course. They might fall back to simply applying the Age Verification stuff that they began to put into place awhile back; where naughty places have to be marked Adult, and only age-verified people can go to those places. We’ll see. But my bet is on them actually going through with this (at least officially; see somewhere below).

Why are they doing this?

They say that it’s all “about enhancing Second Life for all Residents by giving them greater control over their inworld experiences”, but that’s just the kind of painfully chirpy positive spin that LL is for some reason addicted to. Residents already have all the control they could possibly want over their inworld experience; if they want to avoid adult things they can stick to “PG” parcels and Abuse Report anyone who does anything naughty there. And if they really just wanted to allow people even stronger abilities to avoid naughty things they could (as many of us have suggested on the forums) create a new Non-adult continent for those people, and leave the rest of us alone.

I think it’s most likely that they are doing this because they’ve concluded that they must prevent people who aren’t age-verified from seeing the naughty stuff, whether those people want to see it or not. PG parcels don’t do this, and a Non-adult Continent doesn’t do this (unless they restrict all un-age-verified people to it, thus cutting them off from virtually all of the grid), but the Adult-banishment that they are planning does.

Why do they feel that they need to keep the non-verified away from naughty stuff? Two possibilities spring to mind: either because they really are going to start letting non-adults onto the grid (merging / eliminating the Teen Grid), or their lawyers have just concluded that otherwise their exposure to lawsuits in some jurisdiction or other is unacceptably high. (It may even be that some government body somewhere has informed them that if they are not taking reasonable steps to keep minors away from naughty things by a particular date, they will be indicted; who knows!)

That’s my theory, anyway.

So what will happen?

All sorts of things, very few of them good.

Many adult institutions will be destroyed. Either because they can’t afford the hassle and possible expense of moving (LL hasn’t said anything about how the mechanics and economics of the adult exile will work), or because they are focused on or otherwise depend on customers who are not age-verified. And that latter doesn’t mean just children sneaking onto the Grid; depending on who you listen to, there are either a few or lots and lots of people who can’t age-verify because the age verification mechanisms don’t work in their country, or require RL resources that they don’t have, or require disclosing RL information about themselves that they don’t want to disclose.

Others will go underground. When LL banned gambling from the Grid, many gambling places shut down, but others just moved, or disguised themselves, or took a week’s vacation and returned under another name. It’s not hard to find slot machines and other supposedly banned games of chance on the grid; some are disguised as games of skill, others are ‘way ‘way up above the clouds, and so on. These places can’t advertise (except very carefully), but I imagine word of mouth works pretty well. I think this would in general be a bad thing for adult places; being driven out of the light tends to lead to unhealthy development in the dark.

There will be no clear definition of “Adult”. As people have pointed out in the forums, it’s ridiculous to expect that Linden Lab will be able to come up with a clear unambiguous acceptable definition of “Adult material”, when the world’s courts have tried for generations to do that same thing and failed.

The Maturity Ratings FAQ, which seems to be the official policy document for purposes of the banishment, defines “Adult” very broadly, to include for instance any “publicly accessible Region” that “advertises, makes available, references, or displays… genitalia, whether or not photo-realistic… [or] Photo-realistic nudity”. Under those words, a gallery with a reproduction of Michelangelo’s “David”, or a private home with a realistic nude portrait on the wall, is “Adult”. And that’s ridiculous. It also clearly includes nude beaches (where genitalia are of course displayed).

Now in the forums various Lindens, including Blondin and Cyn, have assured Residents that that page doesn’t really mean what it says at all, and that nude beaches are okay as long as they aren’t sex-clubs, and that anything at all in a private residence is okay, and artistic-type art galleries are okay. And that, in general, it’s only the very “explicit” and “extreme” stuff that will be banished.

So we have an official policy that says one thing, and the people who will be enforcing the policy saying something else. And what does that mean?

Enforcement will be unfair. It means the policy will be enforced unevenly, based on the well-intentioned whims and subjective judgements of whoever happens to be manning the Banishment Desk that day. It means that some maybe-Adult places will exist on the non-adult mainland in a state of uncertainty, keeping their heads down and self-censoring. It means that our culture’s prejudices will inevitably creep in, and gay places will be judged more strictly than straight places, and classical art will be given more slack than edgier modern art, and people who are well-regarded by the Lindens will be able to get away with more than people who are less well connected, or who the Lindens don’t like. This isn’t because the Lindens are evil or sinister or anything; they’re just human, and humans always do things like this when they’re called on to subjectively enforce bad laws.

The mainland will be less interesting. If this goes into effect, all of the adult establishments will (perforce) move to the Adult Mainland, and few or no non-adult establishments will move there (since they don’t have to, and if they do they will lose all of their un-age-verified customers). So exploring the normal mainland will be less interesting, because there will be nothing adult there. And exploring the adult mainland will be less interesting, because it will be all adult.

People will get even whinier. I’m not a huge fan of slippery-slope arguments, but I think there’s a pretty plausible one in this case. If it “enhances Second Life for all Residents” to banish adult stuff to their own continent, why not banish anything else that someone doesn’t like? Banish political speech to its own continent; I come into SL to relax, not to hear about politics! Banish all drinking establishments to their own continent; alcohol is against my religion! For that matter, banish all religious establishments to their own continent; religions besides my own offend me! Give each religion its own continent, for that matter! It will “give them greater control over their inworld experiences”! How wonderful! The mainland will be completely devoid of anything that anyone doesn’t like, and we can all hang around just with people exactly like us!

That’s unlikely to happen of course. But once we start down this slope, people will want it to happen, for the particular things that bother them, and they will moan and whine and point at the Adult banishment, and ask why they don’t get that same level of control over their inworld experiences. And that will be annoying.

So you’re not too crazy about this idea?

I’m not! I don’t necessarily blame LL for doing it; they may have no choice. In their usual LL fashion they are presenting it as a fait accompli and being all syrupy and chirpy about it; they always do that; it seems to be in their genes. They may be just putting the best (“best”) face on something that they didn’t actually have much choice about. But it’s still a bad thing.

It rewards people and governments who have stupid and destructive ideas about bodies and sex, it punishes with banishment people who have done nothing wrong, it harms people’s sense of responsibility for their own lives (and for the upbringing of their children), and it will make Second Life a less interesting and more annoying place.

So pheh.

Next time I will post about something less depressing.