The Writing on the Wall

September 19, 2007

So, the Linden’s have posted the next step in their identity verification program.  Look! you can now flag stuff restricted, you know, if you want to.  Estate owners, you can now encourage your residents to flag stuff restricted, you know, if you want to.  Restricted content will get extra warnings and bar anyone who’s not verified.  Verification isn’t fully open yet, but we can assume that’s soon.

The interesting thing here is that there is no penalty specified, content that should have been flagged but wasn’t might be abuse reported, and then something might happen.  Until some further revision an AR would probably fail if the content is on a mature sim to begin with.  Odd.  Let me read the writing on the wall to you, the key phrase is:

As has always been the case, Residents are morally, socially and legally responsible for their actions and content in Second Life. Clearly, any illegal activity or content will be investigated and appropriate action will be taken.

and the key analogy is gambling.  The way I read this is that somewhere there is a decency law, California logically, and it says one cannot show “adult” material to people under the age of 18 unless you check their age.  Now, since Linden Lab stopped checking for credit cards at the door, and arguably even before that, there’s been no effective check on the age of new users signing up.  Thus, anyone exceeding the limitations of that law is in violation.  Now the terms of service say we have to obey the law even in SL, that’s 4.1.iii:

[ you agree that you shall not:] (iii) take any action or upload, post, e-mail or otherwise transmit Content that violates any law or regulation;

that’s the same reason running an illegal casino in Second Life is illegal, it’s against the law and we have to obey the law.  Now then, the next step will be a nice little note in Linden Blog reminding us of all these facts together and pointing out that unflagged adult content is against the law, and hence a terms of service violation, and thus subject to pretty much any penalty LL wants to apply.  Probably as weak as the law will let them get away with, but the law may not give them much room.  Of course, LL can’t afford the staff hours to do a sweep of the grid, but vigilantes, maybe even griefers will get to you eventually.

Now, there are plenty of voices saying that this is a bad thing.  It’s definitely a hole in our utopia, a division in our community, and a reduction in our privacy, with degrees we can argue anytime you like.  But let’s look at the way this is a good thing, remember, the law is not changing, if you have adult content and you are not checking the ages of your visitors then you’re in violation of it already.  A sufficiently bored assistant attorney general can bring criminal charges against you today and if a check box where the user says they’re over 18 is not sufficient, then you get to be a test case.  Now that could be fun, but you may have some other things you’d rather be doing so maybe you just want to shed a couple tears, tidy up your poseballs and see what comes next.

-CF

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