Thursday, March 13, 2008

Media mush


Allow me to go off on a bit of a rant.

As most know, Livingtree is a welcoming place for child avatars. Two of us who are heavily involved in Livingtree are usually kids inworld, and a large part of the stores on the island are for virtual kids. THe island's many recreations, too, are designed with an understanding that they'll be fun for both adults and kids. We take a somewhat protective stance towards SL's "inner kids," and, quite frankly, I get pretty hot when I see people being unfair.

The majority of those who play kids in Second Life are doing it for innocent reasons. They might just find it fun to get out there as a kid an do kid stuff, or they might be healing old wrongs and losses in their lives through some harmless role playing. Without tooting my own horn too much, I've met a lot of virtual kids in Second Life, and have at least some idea when I say that most are not doing anything sexual with their avatars

But yet again, the news media is going after sexual ageplay in Second Life, and branding it as "pedophilia."

Jason Farrell — a reporter for Sky Five in the UK who had previously uncovered one location that included sexual ageplay — was back, playing a female child avatar and trying to entrap people who wanted to perform sexual activities with him. All this for a piece touting the supposed rampant issue of pedophilia in Second Life, and Sky News' opinion that Linden Lab is doing enough to curb it.

On the heels of this report, Sky Five also presented an discussion inworld to supposedly debate the issue of applying real-world laws to the Second Life Grid. The talk — plagued by audio issues and with an audience largely comprised of child avatars — was more a cherry picked panel presenting their opinions on sexual ageplay, largely glossing over the supposed planned topic, and curbing dissent. Of course, the program this typically airs on, Five News with Natasha Kaplinsky, appears to thrive on "zOMG, teh inter-tubes is so skery!" stories.

This was not journalism, and their "debate" was no debate. This was media hackery, and a transparent attempt to gain viewers — and visitors to their Second Life location. Meanwhile, the issues of sexual ageplay and child pornography are being exploited to make Sky a buck.

Sky's report on the debate was rife with errors and spin. The audience, which they claim was an invited group of "deviants" like those they highlighted in the piece. Nonsense: the debate was one I heard about on the website and promoted to the Second Life Children group. These were residents tired of being tarred and feathered as pedophiles — who, in their follow-up, are essentially again presented as such. That their audience was angered — the inference that they did not want to lose the ability to have sex with kids — is a fallacy: the audience was incensed that Sky Five was implying that there wasn't oversight in place already. The report at seems a little less biased.

Does it strike anyone else as being a bit hypocritical for them to warn people about the dangers of virtual pedophilia in Second Life, then use Second Life to hold your meeting about how bad Second Life is?

The thing is, it's just not the issue these "news" agencies make it to be. For one, much as I might personally find sexual ageplay distasteful in a Second Life context, it's not real pedophilia. This is a layered issue, full of nuance. While most child avatars — including, seemingly, all who attended the Sky discussion — do not include adult activities with their kid persona, those that do are adults IRL and also claim little connection to real-world pedophiles: from those I've spoken to, it is more about being "infantilized" — not about sex with real children.

I'm not saying bad things don't happen here — but I am saying that they don't happen to the level these sensationalist news organizations claim. Any one can pick out a few incidents in a world of twelve million accounts, and spin it into something that seems much larger.

Indeed, it might seem the bigger issue with sexual predators might be found outside of Second Life. MySpace, Facebook, or other social networking sites have been such a target, and there may be some cases to be had there. Meanwhile, most cases of child molestation still come from friends and family members, not faceless strangers from the computer. Heck, one of Sky News' own "experts" noted that "potentially deviant fantasy role-playing that can take place in virtual worlds may be transferrable to the real world, but that it is not at present provable, or known which individuals might be susceptable to this." Possible. May. Not at present provable.

Linden Lab has made it clear that they have no tolerance for sexual ageplay. They have been largely active in closing down locations and groups involved with such, in spite of what must me a crusing workload of reports of illegal casinos, crooked ATMs, ad farms, and newbies wandering naked through the welcome areas. I do know that the place in question within this Sky News report showed up a few times on the SL police blotter in the weeks before.

I should add that, during inworld Governance team office hours recently, the team notes that Sky — contrary to their claims — do not contact Linden Lab for a response. They also let me know that the reporter's own actions may well be actionable under the current anti-sexual ageplay rules.

For what it's worth, Sky Five is participating in the same sort of "fear of the unknown" script that gets played out over and over. It's like the burly blackfaced character of Gus in D.W. Griffith's Birth of a Nation attacking the helpless young white female to build sympathy for the KKK. It's like Reefer Madness and any number such "educational" films that sold movie tickets while scaring the public without rubber-masked monsters. It's like Dr. Fredric Wertham's Seduction of the Innocent that led to the dragonian Comic Code. It's like the Tipper Gore-led PMRC fighting against backmasking and 2 Live Crew. It's like the Briggs Amendent from California in the late 1970s, to presumably protect 'the children' from having a gay or lesbian — or even gay and lesbian sympathetic — teacher.

Now it's "them inter-tubes" under attack for corrupting our youth and, by extension, Second Life.

That's what it boils down to. A media report trafficing in unknowns and spin in some attempt to "scare" their viewers into watching their report, with no real, tangible proof that there truly is a real issue.

I personally do not care for sexual ageplay — but I think I care less for these slimy "news" outlets attempting to use sexual ageplay to boost their own ratings and draw people to their otherwise empty region. This reporter may well have run afoul of SLs own rules on sexual ageplay in order to concoct his story — and he expects us to trust him?

This report will not change any of Linden Lab's policies towards SL kids, this they have assured me. In the court of public opinion, inworld this has been a blip on the radar, and few have reported any substantive fallout. I suspect some might speak of it in the real world — but it seems clear that the report is tainted as much as any other Sky Five report, and will likely be viewed with extreme suspicion by all but those most likely to fall prey to their shenanigans.


HoneyBear said...

Excellent post Mari!

Marianne McCann said...

Thankoo. Honeybear!

Ya know, I'd *love* to actually talk to this reporter. On the other hand, how much good would it do?

Toy Halfpint said...

great as usual Mari :)

Snark said...

Good summary of the situation. It's a shame that most of the intended viewers, a television audience dazzled by sensationalistic media and its over-the-top reporting, won't spend a moment on critical thought or investigation of the story. It's news, right? It can't possibly be a lie!

Octobriana (Oz) said...

I think the reporter has a problem with SL period, and this is just an excuse to pick holes in it. Otherwise, they would have researched it properly.