Clickable Culture   Official Research Blog of Phantom Compass
  Linden Lab Mutes Noted Agitator  
Posted 2005-06-16 by Tony Walsh
As revealed by The Second Life Herald, one of Second Life's greatest-known, most-vocal agitators, contrarians, and ponderers has been banned from participating in the Second Life forums by iron-fisted overlords Linden Lab.

Surprisingly, the exile is not Peter Ludlow (a.k.a Urizenus Sklar), publisher of the controversial Herald (and exile of The Sims Online). Instead, the victim (or is that victimizer) is the nefarious Prokofy Neva, who has reached cybercelebrity status for his neverending, long-winded, critical opinions of all things Second Life. It was Prokofy, notes the Herald, that was responsible for the term "Feted Inner Core," intended to identify Linden Lab's favoured cabal of residents. The term became abbreviated to FIC, and is now commonly used among Second Life's seasoned members as praise, insult, and in-joke.

The ramiFICations of the Linden move are yet unclear, as the banning was handed down yesterday. Linden Lab seems to be indicating that Prokofy is bad for business, and yet so far hasn't banned him from Second Life altogether. This will doubtless concentrate Prokofy's energy exclusively into the virtual world--and if I were he, I'd be pretty enraged. And I suspect that this is the idea. Linden Lab's semi-attentive police force will doubtless be waiting for any excuse to toss this infamous antagonist out of Second Life's walled garden.
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Comment posted by Prokofy Neva
June 28, 2005 @ 1:43 pm
I think your term "walled garden" to describe SL is brilliant, Tony, I can't help thinking of "The Secret Garden" and "Paradise Lost" of course. I don't know if you're aware that in your short blurb here, you called me about 8 different names LOL: "[among] greatest-known, most-vocal agitators, contrarians, and ponderers... victim (or is that victimizer)..nefarious Prokofy Neva..who has reached cybercelebrity status for his neverending, long-winded, critical opinions of all things Second Life. .
infamous antagonist.." And I don't at all have a problem with that, and you may feel you were practicing critical, legitimate game journalism, which I fully support, but did you know that if you were on LL's forums with that kind of "name-calling" of any of the FIC types, you'd be AR'd by scores of rabid FIC fanboyz, Lindens would wring their hands and tell you in private chats to "tone it down" and if you persisted, you'd be bounced out to the cornfields after first an "informal warning" -- and maybe not even that due process. That's the reality. Now, your critical commentary will not only lead to loss of your forum access, but will lead to your possible *expulsion from SL for good, meaning the loss of all your land and property over free expression.* Please take a closer look at this really troublesome development in game history!

Look at my posts, and you'll see they're really not so different from your articles here, they are not "hateful" nor "vindictive," though that kind of vile commentary was often leveled against me (often accompanied by unlawful RL disclosures and unlawful slander with the *wrong* RL). I'm not at all enraged about being barred from LL's vicious, tribalistic forums, filled as they are with invective and bad faith. It's soul-killing to watch the combination of sucking up to Lindens and stomping on new people and dissidents. I'm taking my activities inworld where I have a rentals "empire" and numerous projects, discussion groups, etc. I think the key to ending the domination by the smug tekki-wiki elite is building up civic associations if we cannot achieve Equal Avatar Rights and Opportunities at this time.
Comment posted by Tony Walsh
June 28, 2005 @ 2:03 pm
Hi Prokofy, thanks for the post. I agree that the kind of criticism I normally engage in would be unwelcome in the Second Life forums, which is precisely why I do it at Clickable Culture instead of Linden-controlled space. I have mixed feelings about the concept of public freedom as it applies to private space. On the one hand, I feel LL has every right to stomp on anyone they disagree with. On the other hand, I feel that such moves are heavy-handed and counter-productive. LL risks turning SL into the same kind of GAP/Disney/McDonald's-friendly environment as There. No grit, all gloss. To this, I say "booooo!"
Comment posted by Prokofy Neva
June 28, 2005 @ 2:48 pm
A Linden put it to me simply: "We own the forums." Indeed, they do. But I also pay a hefty amount of tier for their servers in my rentals business and other projects, and my subscription fees. Doesn't that make me a kind of part-owner or share-holder of some sort? And if LL has pretentions to serve as the spawner of the Metaverse, and become something grander than a game/3-D prototype space, they'll need to think about RL values like the US First Amendment or the UN's Article 19 and the relationship between human rights/avatar rights and the free flow of goods, services, and information vital for any free market economy.

In fact, for now, at this stage, I don't even insist they comply with those higher, more protective free-speech standards, I'd like to see LL simply equally and professionally enforce their own existing TOS, and end the climate of vicious, retaliatory Abuse-Reporting -- the misuse and overuse by residents of the little triangular red and white panic button to report "undesirable" posts. It creates a KGB-style informants' and sychophants' atmosphere on the forums that is really deadly. I think tying any speech, even TOS-violation speech, to expulsion from the world as well is simply untenable for a company claiming to offer something roughly analagous to property rights. At the very least, there should be many more steps between first and last offense than there are now -- say, 90-day suspensions or a reset after 6 months.
Comment posted by Kathmandu
June 28, 2005 @ 5:16 pm
Prokofy isn't a victim. The people who pay the light bill got tired of providing a forum where Prokofy could accuse them of everything from player favoritism to shooting President McKinley. They didn't curtail his right to free speech, they just told him to take his tin-foil hat and rant and rail against Second Life, Linden Labs and according to Prokofy the devil himself Phillip Rosedale, and go somewhere else and on someone else's dime.

There is no conspiricy, no KBG-like anything, LL just got tired of Prokovy's paranoia and the incessant flamewars that would inevitably start with each posting. Not a whole lot of tears being shed over Prokovy's absence.

I am surprised Prokovy hasn't accused this forum of collecting information to be used for some nefarious purpose, the collecting of names, IP addresses and such is a blatent misuse of power and infringes upon our privacy. Is this information being kept on a data base like KGB files to suppress ...bla bla bla
Comment posted by Tony Walsh
June 28, 2005 @ 5:38 pm
I support Prokofy's right to wear a tinfoil hat, to rant, and to rail. I respect your right to disagree. Hasn't this already been debated into the ground on the SL forums and the Herald?
Comment posted by Prokofy Neva
June 28, 2005 @ 6:44 pm
I've never discussed President McKinley, and I certainly have never called Philip Rosedale, who is clearly an entrepreneurial and scientific genius, "the devil". That's just silly hyperbole I guess. I don't wear tinfoil hats and I'm not ignorant of the Internet and its works. And some sites like this and particularly some SL-related fan sites do indeed grab or monitor IPs by their own admission in order to block those they view as griefers or trolls. That enables them to out alts and track people with a marker, that's all self-evident.

I personally don't think most of the FIC posters or even some of the LL moderators are able to tell the fine distinctions between legitimate and intelligent polemics and rhetoric, and "trolling," a tribalistic game culture concept in any event that surely bears some re-examination, like most MMORPG game/forum cultural artifacts which tend towards the smug, insular, and self-referential. The sharp critique of the FIC and their supporters among the Lindens and the lack of a level playing field are what led to my banning, mainly due to the tendency of the FIC to AR, and my tendency to avoid ARing which I view as part of a KGB-like informants' culture. There's nothing paranoid about this, it's reporting my legitimate observations and opinions, and judging from the many IMs and emails of support and encouragement I get, I'm not alone in this perception. It's typical of the forums collectivist, cult-like behaviour that any critique of the content barons and scripterati evokes screams about alleged insanity and hilarious deficits in technical knowledge.

The people who send me anonymous death threats and attack my anonymously on SLHerald from behind the safety of an anonymizer understand all to well how one's identity can become marked and tracked on the Internet.
Comment posted by Tony Walsh
June 28, 2005 @ 9:18 pm
Prokofy, just to clarify, I don't really think you wear a tinfoil hat--that comment was more in response to Kathmandu. I support your right to wear whatever hat you want. Or no hat at all :) I think you raise (and have raised) many important considerations about LL and SL. The way I see things, your opinions are largely unpopular because most people don't like to be challenged.

As far as this site and its data-collection goes, an email address, username, and password (which I can't view) is collected when you register. Every time you make a comment here, your IP address is stored with that posting. An IP address is actually a fairly meaningless piece of data (mine, for instance, changes a few times a day), which is why when I ban members here I do it via email address.
Comment posted by Prokofy Neva
June 28, 2005 @ 10:53 pm
I don't care about the tinfoil hat, Tony. An IP address is not meaningless. While it is indeed dynamic and can change, it changes within a range that still remains as a marker.
People seem to endlessly dispute this obvious fact, and tekkies are often the ones to downplay this reality. It is indeed a marker, not a perfect one, not one that enables people to vector in on your home, but in the context of a game with a limited population, it is indeed a marker.

Let me give you a quote from James Linden from the Linden forums, on the new web-on-a-prim feature, in answer to a resident's concern about privacy:

"Any time the Second Life client connects to a third-party server to get information, your Internet Protocol (IP) address is exposed. An IP address is the Internet equivalent of a telephone number - it allows servers to find your computer and attempt to communicate with it. It only roughly correlates with physical location - perhaps to the city level. Also, the Second Life server farm knows your IP address, and _must_ know it to make SL work."

What more do you need? An authoritative Linden is telling you that the IP address is the equivalent of a telephone number and SL, for example, must know that number to make SL work.

Why is this so hard for everyone to grasp? It's a normal phenomenon, and yet, in RL people have unlisted phone numbers sometimes and in SL, people often wish to have anonymity and alts. There are consequences to our immersive and free world caused by all this intrusion with IP capturing or capturing of other data.

If a site like this or SLH or SLUN grabs emails and not IPs, what of it? The fact is, they grab, they control, they vet. It's part of our increasing reality in the virtual world.
Comment posted by Tony Walsh
June 28, 2005 @ 11:35 pm
I know what an IP address is :)
I guess when I say an IP address is "fairly meaningless," I mean that it isn't a reliable piece of identification, and I don't find it intrusive because it doesn't contain personally-identifying information. Yes it is a marker, I don't dispute that, but I think it's a very fuzzy one. I see your point about how even a fuzzy marker can be more potent given a small community size. Probably someone with too much time on their hands could use IP address data (if they had access to it) to make some educated guesses with regards to connecting "alts" to a main account, and I gather this has happened on more than one occasion. On the other hand, it's not hard to find all sorts of info on someone just by Googling their email address.

As far as the data-collection goes, internet sites have been using this sort of data for as long as online communities have been around. I had to institute registration here solely to stop dozens of daily spam comments. I don't take an active interest in the data collected. The only real vetting or monitoring of user data going on here is conducted by the software that runs this site. When I discover a spammer, I ban them by email address and erase their account. If I can't keep spammers out, I can't really maintain this site, so collecting user data is necessary.

The type of data-collection that bothers me is behavioural and demographic data, which can be cross-referenced with the standard IP/email data. It's one thing to know that someone visited your site. It's another to know what age and sex they are, what their home address is, what sections of your site they visited, who they interacted with there, how long they spent in various sections, how often they came back, etc. That's the sort of thing we're going to see more of in all online transactions, virtual or web-based.
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