I don’t envy Linden Lab’s situation. Try to dodge the self-serving politicians and reporters nipping at your heels, and the Residents bring out the pitchforks and torches. It’s an impossible job, so it’s no wonder they’re doing so poorly at it. I’d have plenty of sympathy for Linden Lab. I really would.
Except that they put themselves in this situation.
Second Life is under external pressure because of a number of misconceptions (some more misconceived than others) that exist among the general public — the misconceptions perpetuated by the commercial media because they sell well: Sex. Weird sex! Lots of weird, kinky sex online! And kids?! What’s going on in this sick, perverted online haven of creeps and pedophiles?! Read all about it! Throw in a few politicians eager to prove that they’re “thinking of the children” on an election year, and you’ve got a lot of (self-)important people with a professional interest in painting an exaggerated, sordid picture of Second Life.
The natural alliance here would be between Linden Lab and the Residents, based on the common interest in making sure Second Life survives, against the external forces that threaten it. Linden and the Resident, hand in hand, making a better, freer world, in the face of opposition. A beautiful image, no?
Would that it were so. But Linden Lab, it seems, doesn’t want its Residents anymore. It doesn’t want a free, open, creative world. It wants a sanitized, media-friendly world, that universities and big corps won’t think twice about making major investments in. LL’s message for Residents now is:
Thanks for making us so popular, but go away now. You’re embarrassing us in front of the cool kids.
Linden Lab has continually neglected and offended its user base, and thus turned a natural ally into a second enemy. If they make a move to please the media, they raise ire with their users. If they make a move to assuage or pay respect to their users, they leave themselves open to attack from the media. Damned if they do, damned if they don’t. It’s a tight spot for LL.
Or so they imagine.
It is only Linden Lab’s continual poor choices that have created this scenario. Faced with external pressure, Linden Lab repeatedly chooses the course of action that alienates its users and destroys goodwill.
Let’s imagine a hypothetical scenario.
Suppose that a self-styled “news reporter” with a kiddie porn obsession is waiting for any opporunity to regurgitate another story about pedophiles and bizarre sexual practices in Second Life.
Further suppose that a United States politician, smelling an opportunity to make a name for himself in an election year, is drooling in anticipation of any sign of controversy involving Second Life, so that he can push forward a nonsensical bill in the interest of “protecting the children”.
Now suppose that there’s an upcoming annual celebration, which will be watched with an eagle eye by those vultures. It’s clear that even the slightest appearance of endorsing either “children” or sexual kinks in SL will be ripe for media spin. You might as well slit your own throat and lay down in the savannah; your eyes would be pecked out just as thoroughly.
There’s the scenario. Now, you have a choice of how you’ll handle it. Do you:
a) Head off the threat, dispelling the myths, rumours, and exaggerations about activities within Second Life, and revealing the vultures as the self-serving fear-mongers that they are.
b) Work with the potentially controversial communities to reach an arrangement that mitigates the risk without excluding them or dismissing their contribution to Second Life as unwanted or illegitimate.
c) Carefully explain that, while you regret the necessity forced by the current political climate, it would be a grave risk to Second Life as a whole for those communities to actively participate in the celebration.
d) Reject the communities, but don’t explain your reasoning or make any concessions. Set yourself up as the oppressor. Let imagination and speculation run wild.
If you chose (a), you would regain the respect of your users and re-establish Second Life as a platform for social progress, but at moderate risk of reaction from conservative elements of the public. If you chose (b), you would still establish goodwill with the communities and with your user base as a whole, with only a small risk. Even if you chose (c), Residents would just sigh about the times we live in, and thank you for being so forthcoming and responsible about it.
Of course, I don’t need to tell you what would happen if you chose (d). You can look around and see for yourself.