Friday, April 16, 2010

A look at griefers in Second Life

Second Life, of course, is a virtual world in which the developers provide users with robust tools to build and "script" objects, ranging from clothing and homes to vehicles and weapons. The result is that there is much user created content - some of it very edifying, some of it junk, and some of it obscene. For example, a Second Life griefer group known as the W-Hats had a property featuring giant penises, swastikas, and a "build" with a Death Star blasting the World Trade Center.


Another griefer group, called the Patriotic Nigras (PN) routinely engaged in racist and transgressive behavior, targeting clubs inside of Second Life and took credit for griefing the Second Life political campaign headquarters for John Edwards (The W-Hats also took credit. The Edwards campaign blamed Second Life Republicans).


The PN actually came into existence in 2005, when members of 4chan ("channers") decided to raid Habbo Hotel, a virtual world aimed at younger children. The channers created black presenting avatars with afros, and surrounded Habbo's virtual swimming pool warning the children that "the pool is closed because of aids." Thus were born the PN, and their slogan (still used) "Pool's Closed".

A griefer organization like that with a permanent presence inside of Second Life was bound to be the virus from which a virtual vigilante group emerged.


What perhaps began as a fun exercise in roleplay soon began to go awry. Overzealous Justice League members began abuse reporting heavily, and also began picking fights with unlikely groups within Second Life. For example, the Justice League was banned from Furnation (an area inside Second Life dedicated to players that like to don anthropomorphized animal costumes), because of their excessive vigilantism.

The JLU of course clashed with the PN, but the problem became determining who was really a member of the PN and who was simply in the orbit of the PN. Matters took on fractal complexity when some students of Woodbury University (a real life University with a virtual campus inside Second Life) became associated with 4chan and the PN. In what seemed like a bizarre case of guilt by association, the members of the Justice League took on the students of Woodbury University, at one point successfully getting Linden Lab to shut down Woodbury Island (the virtual campus). Naturally matters quickly escalated.
Part 2:
The Justice League did not merely have a data base on Second Life users. It had a massive data base on Second Life users. It contained 1,700 pages of information and misinformation on users, ranging from chat logs, to presumed real life identities of avatars (including real life information), to a history of the abuse reports that they had filed -- and many many abuse reports had been filed.

Predictably, the content of the Justice League data base was posted on various web sites. Kalel, understandably furious, responded in a scattershot fashion by filing Digital Millennium Copyright Act take-down notices, bizarrely arguing that the chat logs etc were his intellectual property. When some Internet service providers complied, the materials were moved to safer havens in Canada and ultimately Montenegro. Woodbury sympathizers organized the material into a searchable database.