April 12th, 2010 by Marianne McCann
At long last, sexual ageplay is spelled out in the Second Life Terms of Service. More than this, it makes it crystal clear that there are distinct real-world consequences to be had for those who attempt to engage in such behavior.
In the early months of 2007, following a scathing report about sexual ageplay and the trading of real-life pedophilia in Second Life, Linden Lab decided it was in their best business interests to set policy regarding these activities.
But rather than make a bold public statement, their first action was to give owners of places catering to child avatars (both those who were involved with sexual activity with child avatars, and those who were not) a notecard telling them that they were possibly in violation of the terms of service and community standards, and could lose their assets as a result.
It was a short notecard, not much longer than that last sentence. No one knew for sure exactly what this meant Was this aimed at all child avatars, or those who were using them for decidedly non-childlike activities?
It took a bit of time and some outcry from Residents to get Linden Lab to even acknowledge that these notecards were real, and what they meant. That acknowledgement – and a later clarification – were posted to the Second Life blog. Yet even with the clarification, the wording was imprecise. Some claimed this was deliberate, providing a bit of “wiggle room” for Linden Lab to act on.
Maybe that was true, maybe not, but the language of these blog posts, coupled with the fact that these remained relegated to increasingly dusty blog entries, made it more and more difficult to find out what the rules were towards child avatars.
This cause a couple things:
1. Residents, fearing that they could lose everything by even allowing a child avatar near their land, decided to ban any avatar that even slightly resembled a child. This was usually based solely on height, which caused a lot of trouble for clearly adult avatars who were less than amazonian in height.
2. Child avatars, unsure of what the rues were, grew increasingly insular, and would often panic out of fear of rumors and perceived tightening of the rules.
3. Witch hunting formed as people assumed that all child avatars were real-life pedophiles and deviants. This is still an issue.
4. Real perverts and pedophiles would come into SL after hearing that there was sexual ageplay here and would not see any mention of rules against it in the terms of service, meaning that the kid avatars had to bear the burden of “educating” these sorts — if they bothered to do so after giving them a swift eject.
Finally, three years after that initial notecard, these rules are in the Terms of Service, and made very plain. To quote:
“You agree that you will not…. Post, display or transmit any material, object or text that encourages, represents, or facilitates sexual “age play,” i.e., using child-like avatars in a sexualized manner. This activity is grounds for immediate termination. You may review our full Age Play Policy here. You understand and agree that we may report any and all such incidents — and any and all of your corresponding personal information — to any authorities we deem appropriate, whether or not it in and of itself violates the law of your (or any) jurisdiction.”
While shorter, this is a vast improvement over the Clarification from the blog. It’s more concise and much clearer. Not only does it include mention of “Sexual Ageplay” – a language child avatars have wanted since 2007 — but it defines it and explains that you ma not only be in violation of the TOS, but they will report your actions to real-world authorities if they deem it appropriate.
It’s not to say it’s perfect: there is still some questions in the new clarification in the knowledge base, specifically with the first bullet points, where it seems to imply that real life images and avatars portrayals of child avatars (regardless of sexual or lewd acts) are disallowed.
That said, the language of the TOS itself, as well as within context of this clarification, make it pretty clear that no one is going to get in trouble for sharing holiday snaps of their grandkids at the Grand Canyon, or for making a child avatar inworld (presuming in both that there is no sexual or lewd activities involved).
Three years ago, I wrote then-LL Vice President Robin Linden for clarification. I cc’ed then-Liaison Chadrick Linden, the Linden who set out the infamous notecards. I also cc’ed the former Daniel Linden, author of the “Keeping Second Life Safe, Together” blog post that also touched upon the ageplay policies and other issues.
Now, today, my concerns of 2007 are right there in the Terms of Service, and those of us who opt to play child avatars in a non-sexual fashion in Second Life can, finally, see things spelled out. Thanks to those in LL’s legal department for finally putting those old blog posts to rest and putting Second Life policy where it belongs. It’s about time.