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.

22 Responses

  1. OK… a few clarifications… Not that I feel like defending L, but confusion makes things much worse….

    As you said, new non-adult continent was proposed on forums by residents. Well, we’ll got adult continent. Which is more or less the same…. continent separation of the content.

    True, mechanics of the moving things around the grid was not published, most probably because it’s not throughly planned yet. From what I’ve heard it will go slow paced, like 60 days after the policy is finished. And this is a good thing, leaves the space to discuss it along with the definition of “adult”.

    Unlike gambling, this is not ban. Sex places, stores and other content will not be out of the light. It will be moved and search results filtered. Actually, creating themed zones might do well for the industry.

    Age verification this time includes payment info on file. Yes, that cuts off a bit of adult population but not large part. Sex products cost enough to make one grab the credit card anyway.

    There will be clear definition of adult… at least clearer than present. Whether we’ll like that definition is yet to be seen. I agree with you that there will be all kinds of misjudgements.

    It is quite possible that people will start to whine about everything and anything they don’t like. Which gives us picture of grid or islands, almost without mainland. But then… so many of us rarely visit mainland. i don’t enjoy architectural chaos (no matter how important SL symbol it is), I don’t want to think about all the unclear rules of each parcel owner, I don’t want to bang the ban lines. Restructuation of the grid might be a good idea! Let all the religions, political parties, sex kinks, fandoms get their own islands. After a month, they’ll naturally start grouping making logical continents.

    I am not crazy about all this, but if it will end the complaining of stupid and degenerated people, systems and governments, then it’s fine. If we can’t live together, then let’s separate.

  2. General agreement; I think we’re just looking at different parts of the same puzzle.

    Making lots of existing people move who don’t want to move is NOT to my mind more or less the same as providing a new place that adultophobic people can go if they want to; they seem to me very different. Maybe the thing that bothers me most about this, in fact, is that it’s punishing (by inconvenience and singling out if nothing else) people who have done nothing wrong. That always bothers me.

    It’s not a ban from the grid, but it is a ban from the mainland. This may not seem like anything important to you if you don’t like the mainland anyway; I love the mainland, and spend quite a bit of time there. That’s where most of the land that I own is.

    If creating themed zones would be useful for the industry, then let the industry get together and do it; that would be the “your world, your imagination” way. Imposing it from above rankles.

    I will be quite surprised if just having payment info on file counts as being age verified for very long. Even then, though, I’m saddened that certain kinds of content, harmful to no one, are kept away from people who haven’t given SL enough personal information about themselves; whereas other kinds of content are available to anybody.

    There will NOT be a clear definition of adult. I am willing to bet significant numbers of donuts on this. :)

    The reason that this saddens me is that I think we COULD all live together, if only we were determined enough to. But in things like this we (the collective “we”, including LL) are saying “well, okay, you’ve tired us out, we give up, we’ll divide the world and put up barriers”. And imho that is not the way forward to where I would like the world to end up…

    Thanks much for your comment, and your comfort. :)

  3. Thank you for a very thoughtful and thought provoking post. I, too, love mainland and have land there. The quirkiness of it is what gives it its character and charm…and sometimes its headaches when neighbors have a different idea of what wonderful looks and feels like. (But is their idea more wrong than mine? Probably not, even if I don’t like it. Just different.) What causes some concern at this initial stage is the idea of applying the typical RL cultural standards/responses (grouping and isolating sameness with sameness without any clear way of defining that sameness) into SL. It’s a world where we create (or can work to create) a different culture, a different set of rules/responses. And while I understand the need to connect to the RL norms/standards particularly as pertains to things legal, it’s interesting how in this brave frontier we sense the growing presense of RL cultural responses. I think that’s some of what I hear you say, and I agree with you. I’m fairly new to watching/following changes of this magnitude from LL. I can only hope this is part of a learning curve for addressing what probably are RL legal concerns/worries (right or wrong or contrived) while making good on the promise of SL’s brave frontier.

  4. Linden Lab can bite me, and in an adult fashion. Just not on the mainland.

    (this has been another installment of “Grumpy Responses to Foolish Policies”)

    Seriously though, I find the progress with OpenSim encouraging. That’s where the new frontier is developing and where I expect I will end up putting most of my time and attention.

  5. […] so bad that they actually had planned? (These theories are voiced broadly across the forums but Dale’s post also brings them up and is worth a […]

  6. Dale, I agree we COULD all live together… as long as you and me and the rest of mentally healthy residents count. But neither world is 100% mentally healthy nor mature enough to “live and let live”. Sure that dividing the world is not the best answer but I’ve lost my optimism about some humans long ago…

  7. Yeah, Michele, I think that’s another part of my sadness: that part of what makes SL special, and better in some ways than RL, is being eroded, as RL fears and prejudices and divisions spill in. It’s inevitable to some extent, but still worth working to slow down.

    That’s a good point, Rez; it’ll be very interesting to see what happens culturally in OpenSim-based worlds, especially if OpenSim interop gets working well enough that many grids are interconnected, so many people can interact. An OpenSim-based world as large as Second Life in land and population, but without the centralized control and fear of lawsuits, would be a fascinating place I think!

    dandellion: yeah, exactly. :) Things that make people like you (and me) lose their optimism make me sad…

  8. we’ll agree to disagree :)

  9. Yes. :) And I’ll continue to hope that I’m wrong, and it really *is* no big deal!

  10. […] Meanwhile, the “Maturity Ratings FAQ,” which disappeared from the Second Life website sometime today, defined “Adult” to include, as blogger Dale Innis read it, […]

  11. Don’t you guys think it might be to get more ppl register payment info? It’s one way of age verification. And also have less alts. What’s the fun of having an alt if you cannot use it for naughty things? And no, they wouldn’t want to say that directly. Protecting us from sin if one thing, and admitting to being rotten capitalists, when they promised freedom, is another.

  12. It’s unadulterated monsterism. They are shooting off their own legs in a desperate attempt to escape an Afghan War of their own making.

    Y es, I am just making shit up.

  13. The maturity FAQ now reads:

    “Whoops! The article you’re looking for was a work in progress, and not quite ready to be published. We still have a lot of talking left to do; we thank you for your patience while this gets worked out.”

    They have not thought this through, as they don’t with many of their decisions which always gives me the impression they don’t understand the concerns of their residents as they themselves aren’t really residents.

    Give the educators and corps their own continent, that just seems to be so much more sensible, or alternatively make the adult continent voluntary. Either way you create a continent that grows organically through choice, forcing people to move is not about providing a choice.

  14. @edalpoe: I tend to doubt it’s just about getting people to register payment info, since they don’t actually make any money off of that. People who’ve registered *might* be more likely to become Premium members, or to buy land, or to buy Lindenbucks, but I doubt that incenting people who wouldn’t otherwise to register payment info would get them enough revenue to make all the pain worth it.

    @kanomi: you always make up good shit. :)

    @Ciaran: yeah, I noticed that! So now the official announcement that Adult content has to go sit in the corner points to a page for the definition of “Adult” that doesn’t actually have a definition on it; cool! While I think it’s good that they realized their definition was wrong, it would have been better if they’d done that *before* the announcement!

    And in some sense it’s futile: we have strong reason to believe that *no* definition in this area will be adequate.

  15. Oh, and I continue to think that they reason they didn’t just create a new “clean” continent was because that solution wouldn’t keep non-age-verified folks from seeing Adult stuff. If that *wasn’t* their main concern, then choosing to displace a huge number of Residents just for the sake of more effectively luring in new institutions really would smack of contempt for us. And I’m really really reluctant to believe that LL has such contempt.

  16. Ok, i’ll confess… i practice sex in SL… not much, but i do it. Some of my images or creations may be considered adult. I’m a human and i like sex.

    I understand your worries, Dale, but well, i think all won’t change too much, posibly only the prices of land in the future “Adult” Mainland will be absurdly high due the speculation, as in Bay City.

    Lindens just can’t control all the content, and as gambling it won’t dissapear… only will be a bit more hidden. I agree one of the worse things will be (and is now) the definition of “Adult content”, you know what happened to Carl Metropolitan. But let’s see how all ends.

  17. I think the title of this article is misleading. It should read “Adult contents banned” – not “Adults banned”. That sounds false and misleading to me (but hey, maybe it’s only because I don’t know English well enough).

    Every user in Second Life is supposed to be an adult. According to Linden Lab, the content they refer to when they say ‘Adult Content’ accounts for less than 5% of all Second Life content.
    So, most adults that right now are using the Mainland won’t be “banned” – and will keep using the Mainland, the same way than they’re using it now.

  18. Thanks, O O! The title was meant to be humorous, not misleading. I don’t think anyone would seriously imagine that adults would be banned from the mainland, so I don’t think I’m actually being deceptive here. It’s like if a headline said “Pigs to fly out of M Linden’s nose”. Although of course in SL that could happen… :)

    The 5% estimate (or 2-4%, depending on which page you read) that the Lab has given for “Adult content” is as far as I know completely made up. Since they’ve pulled the definition of “Adult” from the website, and we now have *no idea* what they actually mean by it beyond unofficial and inconsistent statements by individual Lindens in the forums, there’s no way of estimating how much of an impact the exile of “adult” content might have.

  19. I see the Adult land plan as a foolhardy attempt by Linden Labs to
    * appease the intolerant in-world by segregating the very broadly defined “adult” content with illusionary and ineffective “age-verification”
    * appease the tolerant by offering some potential benefits of avoiding griefers and SOME of the underage LL has allowed in
    * please the commercial sex industry in SL by getting potential customers to add a payment source, significantly increasing the chances someone will buy/use $L in adult areas
    * increase the number of payment info on file residents, thereby significantly increasing the likelihood they will buy/use $L
    * appease out-of-world media and law enforcement and repressive groups with illusionary age verification

    It’s a sin tax. It’s tolerance and intolerance at once. It’s win-win-win — except it’s likely to really please no one, and be a disaster for enforcement, PR, and resident interests. You may want to have your cake and eat it too, LL, but I think this plan is going to be a nightmare for you.


  20. Nicely said, Cloud (and welcome! I like your weblog). You’ve sort of laid out the case *for* the Adult Exile here; and I agree with you that it seems unlikely it’ll be the “win/win/win” that the Lab is (I think) hoping for.

    I also notice that there was another announcement in the SL blog just today, about how the Adult-exile process is going forward. And still as far as I can tell without any kind of definition of “Adult”! Not even a rough draft…

  21. […] are they smoking? Posted on 23 April 2009 by daleinnis Okay, so back in an earlier post we were all annoyed by the idea of banning all “adult content” from the mainland, and […]

  22. […] Zindra, for the 0.73 of you who don’t know, is the new “Adult” mainland continent that the Lab is putting together, so that all of the “Adult” content (or at least all of the publicly-evident Adult content) on the existing mainland can be moved there. Which still seems like about as bad an idea as it did when I first posted about it here. […]

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