Anshe Chung is controversial to some Second Life residents for reasons such as inflexibility on land pricing, the signs she has placed in many areas of the virtual world that are visible to anyone flying overhead, and her ability to get many residents to sell their land to her.
According to Ailin Graef (Daniel Terdiman, CNet News, January 5 2007), "We are, by revenue and customers, the largest virtual-world (land) developer and service provider--if you do not count platform creators like (Second Life publisher) Linden Lab, of course. We develop various kinds of content, such as land and landscapes, buildings, objects and whole communities."
Recently, during an interview--which took place in a digital theater in front of dozens of audience members' avatars--a group intent on sabotaging the event attacked it with 15 minutes of animated penises and photographs of Anshe Chung's real-life owner, Ailin Graef, digitally altered to make her look as if she was holding a giant penis. Later, the attack was posted on YouTube without Graef's permission as she claimed copyrights had been infringed because images of her avatar were used unlawfully.
So, what are the legal rights for a second-life avatar? Is defamation of a second-life character still defamation of character dependent upon the intent of the accused? That remains a question. Yet, typically one may find stories of Hollywood celebs make regular fools of themselves over complaining about silly paparazi pics shown without their consent. Are avatars merely dolls and not a true extension of the real person?
In 1993, the Village Voice's Julian Dibbell reported "A Rape in Cyberspace." Mr. Bungle, a character in the well-known MUD called LambdaMOO, "raped" two other LambdaMOO characters, lebga and Starsinger – that is, Mr. Bungle forced legba and Starsinger to perform "sexual acts" against their will on the MOO. The "rapes" caused an uproar among LambdaMOO participants, who debated at length about how they should respond to Mr. Bungle.
Dibbell explores what these debates might say about the formation of online communities, with their own rules for behavior and explicit consequences for transgressing those rules.
As reported in allexperts. com), the LambdaMOO community realized that they lacked laws governing such incidences and needed to determine proper punishments for crimes. And eventually, Mr. Bungle was removed from the system permanently thanks to the actions of user TomTraceback. However, LambdaMOO still lacks the power to take real life legal actions against the person behind an avatar.
Dibbell confronts the question of the relationship between the virtual world and the real world of human beings who created and controlled the characters:
"...indeed no rape at all as any RL court of law has defined it. The actors in the drama were university students for the most part, and they sat rather undramatically before their computer screens the entire time, their only actions a spidery flitting of fingers across standard QWERTY keyboards. No bodies touched. Whatever physical interaction occurred consisted of a mingling of electronic signals sent from sites spread out between New York City and Sydney, Australia." (Dibbell, 450)
Does this enter into the Platonic binary of the mind-body split: "indeed no rape at all as any RL court of law has defined it."? Does the virtual environment of the MOO dramatically illustrate the separation of the intellectual self (mind) from the physical world (body).
According to Dibbell, much has been made in the professional literature of the ways in which online environments demonstrate postmodern "fragmented subjectivities," but even if people assume that the selves they present online – in a MOO or a chat room or on a listserv – are their "true" or "real" selves, stable and definable entities, they are still "a disembodied self, an intellectual self; it is a self that is separate from the physical world."
This view would suggest that new technologies must enhance that sense of self to enable the MOO participants to overcome the physical and explore the broader implications of the uses of modern technology.
I am not an avatar, and I don't believe I ever wish to explore their domains. Virtual worlds invite players to invest emotionally in their characters, and while the avatars are virtual, the players and their feelings are not. Definitions of emotional devastation and invasive behaviors remain the same. Yet, now the internet has allowed the distance required to inflict harm to others to increase, whether that harm results as abuse to an avatar or abuse to the real person. The threat remains the same, no matter the distance.