Friday, July 06, 2007

Virtual Campus Obliterated After Residents Violate SecondLife's Big Six

"Woodbury University has been obliterated. The real-world campus of 1,500 students still stands, in Burbank, Calif. But in the freewheeling virtual world Second Life, Woodbury has been deleted.

Linden Lab, the company that runs Second Life, simply blanked Woodbury out of existence sometime during the last week of June.

The company took the drastic step, officials said, after administrators for the university's area ignored warnings to stop avatars -- digital characters -- affiliated with its region from engaging in disruptive and hostile behavior...

Woodbury is not the only college that has run into real-world problems after allowing visitors free access to a virtual site.

Troublemakers like to cause scenes at places where people are gathered, often displaying nude images or offensive language. Or they may stalk other users online.

The bad practices, referred to as "griefing," pose a challenge for any organization that creates a place in Second Life. How can officials stop such activities without having to constantly police their island?

In one disturbing incident, a user entered a virtual building on Ohio University's island with a virtual gun and began shooting other visitors.

Ohio University shut down its island until officials were able to get rid of the virtual gunman, says Muriel Ballou, director of Ohio University Without Boundaries, the institution's Second Life presence.

The university routinely works with Linden Lab, which runs Second Life, to root out such troublemakers, she says. Incidents like the virtual shooting helped spur Ohio to be on guard for any further offensive content.

At the same time, says Ms. Ballou, the university wants to keep the island open to all visitors to come and go as they please. Finding the right policies to achieve that balance is something that many users of Second Life will have to work through, she says. "You do have to think about it, because this is an open environment."

As a newbie in Second Life I was wondering about the notecard I read about "combat zones". Can avatars really get killed in SecondLife? Does it mean you can't use that username anymore if you do? Does this article mean that organizations with a presence in SecondLife are going to have to assign real world administrators to their islands to keep out the rifffraff? Do university legal counsels have to worry about avatar misconduct in SecondLife?

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