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February 22, 2007


Fred Smith


Yes. Sort of. It is certainly true that avatars are not human beings. But it is equally true that human beings engage in expression through avatars. Avatars' words, appearance, clothing, and actions are a creative product of "real" people.

But in any event, it is important to ask more than whether avatars' operataors have free speech "rights." While it is wholly possible that no _rights_ are being violated by the actions of the so-called "elite," this does not inherently mean that there are no real free speech concerns. In other words, what is legal is not always synomous with what is appropriate. If there are overwhelming forces are making a formerly egalitarian forum less egalitarian-- if an elite minority is allowed to reduce the voices of the majority-- this seems to be of concern, regarldess of whether the actions technically violate legal rights.

Fred Smith

The above comment primarily responds to the question:

"Do the citizens of second life even have free speech rights?"

Andrea Manka

The relationship between users of Second Life and Linden Labs is a relationship governed through contract. This is paradoxical to a United States citizen's position vis a vis the government. As such, the free speech rights that people have as citizens vis a vis the government do not apply to their contractual relationship with Linden Labs.

Also, if we think about the real world, people do not have free speech rights in all forums anyhow. You cannot come into my house and say what you want to me, and I can lobby my city council to restrict your ability to ride down my street screaming about penises from a megaphone at 6 a.m. I think there is a great deal of misunderstanding among the non-lawyers of the world about the right to free speech being absolute.

The current conflict in Second Life is partially due to the fact that the disgruntled Second Life terrorists expected their contract with Linden Labs to grant them access to their utopian ideal. I would not be surprised if most of those upset with the commercial "invasion" are upset with the commericalism that we are innundated with every day.

Though it might be upsetting to users that Linden Labs is growing as a company, the company doesn't have a fiduciary duty to the users, only their shareholders, and they have no legal obligation to maintain an open forum.


The irony is that some users of Second Life apparently assume that it comes with the same constitutional protections that their first life offers. Freedom of speech and freedom of expression are not “natural rights.” One need only look around the world to prove that freedom of speech is a luxury that many other societies and communities are denied. Therefore, as freedom of speech is not a “natural right,” but one that has been specifically created and cultivated in the United States (among other countries), it is not reasonable to assume that freedom of speech will be readily transferred to the online medium. As the brainchild of a corporate entity, Second Life is not guaranteed to be the protector of constitutional rights, and I would argue that it is not even reasonable to expect them to be. While I do not assume to know the motivations of Linden Labs, if I were one of their shareholders I would expect them to institute practices that maximize profit, not personal liberties of online customers. Users of Second Life that have a problem with this perspective can exercise the ultimate in personal liberty – choosing to take their time and energy elsewhere.

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