I wrote this post as a response to Professor Kim's post on BlogHer, "MySpace lawsuit sparks new safety rules for teens, but questions remain". Tag: Second Life.
Thanks for shining a light on the challenges faced by both the Second Life project and users, Kim. For the record, I'm a huge fan of Mitch Kapor and Linden Labs. I saw this world demo'd at MIT in 2002 and was captivated. But I've never tried it before. So tonight I tried to sign up as a teenager.
Worked like a charm.
Yes, I lied on the application and used a false email address. And then I cancelled the account.
Why'd I do it? To see how Linden Labs handles this as a business -- and how I handle it as a parent and a teenager who used to get herself into trouble all the time. Here's what I found.
As a producer, and I <a href="http://surfette.typepad.com/about.html">know</a>, it's a really tough challenge to allow people younger than 18 to participate. You want to help the community thrive and not scare anyone off, youthful visitor or adult (even Adult) e-commerce. But you also don't want to emcee abuse -- or worse. And abuse is easy when you only require a verifiable email address. Obviously Second Life knows that -- their <a href="http://secondlife.com/corporate/tos.php">terms of service</a> walk that fine line. Here's an excerpt from their corporate site:
<blockquote>2.2 You must be 13 years of age or older to access Second Life; minors over the age of 13 are only permitted in a separate area, which adults are generally prohibited from using. Linden Lab cannot absolutely control whether minors or adults gain unauthorized access to the Service.
You must be at least 13 years of age to participate in the Service. Users under the age of 18 are prohibited from accessing the Service other than in the area designated by Linden Lab for use by users from 13 through 17 years of age (the "Teen Area"). Users age 18 and older are prohibited from accessing the Teen Area. Any user age 18 and older who gains unauthorized access to the Teen Area is in breach of this Agreement and may face immediate termination of any or all Accounts held by such user for any area of the Service.
By accepting this agreement in connection with an Account outside the Teen Area, you represent that you are an adult 18 years of age or older. By accepting this agreement in connection with an Account for use in the Teen Area, you represent that (i) you are at least 13 years of age and less than 18 years of age; (ii) you have read and accept this Agreement; (iii) your parent or legal guardian has consented to you having an Account for use of the Teen Area and participating in the Service, and to providing your personal information for your Account; and (iv) your parent or legal guardian has read and accepted this Agreement.
Linden Lab cannot absolutely control whether minors gain access to the Service other than the Teen Area, and makes no representation that users outside the Teen Area are not minors. Linden Lab cannot absolutely control whether adults gain access to the Teen Area of the Service, and makes no representation that users inside the Teen Area are not adults. Adult employees, contractors and partners of Linden Lab regularly conduct their work in the Teen Area. Linden Lab cannot ensure that other users will not provide Content or access to Content that parents or guardians may find inappropriate or that any user may find objectionable. </blockquote>
After I read this, my inner producer thought: Well written. My inner parent thought: Oh hell. These terms of service mean that Linden is being honest and realistic with me that anything could happen on Teen Second Life. My son could be talking to another baseball fan, or a monster. It's a crapshoot. Which means that if my kids are going to go online (and they eventually are) and join a VR community like this one (which I think they eventually will), I have got to sit down and have a serious talk with them about the realities and the risks. And as for their request move their computer to the downstairs playroom, I think I'll weld it to the kitchen wall until they're older.
But what about other peoples' kids? Then I really started stewing, as a former teenage girl myself, about ugly experiences I've had online and in real life. I won't comment on the lawsuit you mention Kim, I don't know enough about it. But I started to wonder -- does Second Life have virtual abuse counselors, big sisters or other people to whom teens who get into trouble on Second Life can turn? A virtual <a href="http://people.mills.edu/spertus/">Ellen Spertus</a> or another expert in online abuse or violence? Are these grown-ups allowed into Teen Second Life? Where can kids go for help, even as they have a safe, age-appropriate place to be what they are: Adult-like. Without the benefit of perverts two and three and four times their ages. I checked out the Second Opinion user newsletter and seeing its choice of anatomically correct graphics of steamy female types didn't raise my comfort level:
To find out more, I had to continue my ruse as a 15-year-old user. So I began the process of downloading the Second Life interface to my computer.
Then I got some good news: Up into my face, (with a tres interruptive manner and an edgy noir palette designed to suit any teenager as surly as I was at 15) popped Second Life's community guidelines for me to "sign".
The guidelines look pretty good, I must say. There are designated places for me to do everything from talk to dance to shoot a gun (frown). And there are people to which I can turn for help: If I get into trouble, I can contact anyone with the last name "Linden" for help and an employee will appear.
Of course, any damn fool can click the box at the bottom of the page without reading a word and go get into trouble. I do it myself all the time. Which leads me to the parenting lesson I got out of the experience: After reading <a href="http://teen.secondlife.com/footer/cs">these</a>, I think my-sit down with our sons will include a careful review of some of the issues raised in these community guidelines together. Because if the kids could follow these guidelines to the letter and refuse the siren call of anyone they meet online, they might be okay.
Which means the responsibility for teaching the boys how to conduct themselves online does, in fact, involve me. And as early Alzheimer's sets in, I'm really going to have to work-it to stay up to speed with what the younger set's doing...
And as I told Kim, I don't suppose the courts can adjudicate parental involvement...:)