April 25th, 2007 by Benjamin Duranske
In a surprisingly underreported move of huge significance to the long-term prospects for private legal systems and governments in virtual worlds, Second Life creator Linden Lab announced last Friday that after several months of testing, it would soon be incorporating an “Estate Level Abuse program” which would “allow estate owners to receive and resolve their own abuse reports in the method in which they best see fit.”
Estates (which a Linden comment clarifies as consisting of “The Grid,” as opposed to the Linden-run “Mainland”) are privately held areas that are seamlessly accessible to Second Life users from Linden-managed land using the Second Life client.
According to Linden Lab, “Abuse is when anyone violates the Terms of Service (TOS) or the Community Standards (CS).” So once the Estate Level Abuse program is in place, estate owners will essentially get to choose how and when to enforce key provisions of the all-important Terms of Service that protect users (with notoriously mixed results) from stalkers, griefers, and other floatsam of the metaverse.
During the test, estate owners were “no longer subject to Linden’s ideas on how abuse could be handled.” Instead, “estate owners in the test had abuse reports filed on their land sent directly to their email.”
So the big question is: What happens to the abuse reports after they’ve been “sent directly to [the estate owners’] email?” And the big answer is: whatever the estate owner wants. They could be efficiently dealt with by a benevolent king, ignored by an inattentive puppet governor, fairly processed by qualified private judge, “taken care of” for a fee by a corrupt despot, or posted to a blog and ridiculed by a griefer land baron.
‘Chadrick Linden’ confirms: “[R]esidents will have the option of resolving issues their way, or opting-in to the way Linden runs the Second Life grid.”
And believe it or not, Virtually Blind thinks this is all a very good thing.
Why? The system allows for completely different systems of government on private estates. Assuming that remaining a member of a given community is a valuable right (which it will be, if the community is structured correctly) it gives estate owners a death-penalty level enforcement mechanism. And that, in turn, means that an estate owner could, for example, require that a party uphold the terms of a contract under penalty of loss of ownership of land — the holy grail of a private legal system.
Are there reasonable concerns about this? Absolutely. One early comment to the Linden post asked about abusive estate owners. As is traditional, Linden Lab appears to be leaving that essentially up to the free market. “If people are reporting [abuse by] a region owner, it’s up to the region owner to decide what to do,”says ‘Chadrick Linden.’ “If a region owner is being abusive to the point of you having to report him, well he can run his region the way he wants, you should probably not hang out there.”
With open “immigration” from society to society a hallmark of virtual worlds, the masses will abandon abusive landowners and flock to efficient, stable, scalable private “governments.” Smart estate owners will almost certainly outsource this task to a few successful operations, to the betterment of the grid as a whole.
Virtually Blind applauds Linden Lab for taking a big step toward decentralized private government and private judicial systems with this change, and looks forward to seeing what systems private citizens will create given the unfettered opportunity to run their estates as they see fit.
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