Monday, February 12, 2007

digital dangers

As we've been getting know SL with our students in classes, some students are coming back with stories of harassment by other avatars.
One student agreed to be 'teleported' to another location when asked by another avatar and the student ended up getting stuck in an S&M club from which she couldn't escape because her avatar was not "authorized" to open the door!

This and other odd encounters (check the SL Police Blotter) have prompted some worthwhile discussion about digital safety issues and what sort of 'protections' and guidelines students should have for this new realm.

Though I have heard of "rape in cyberspace" and I fully acknowledge that some (too many?) men are aggressive, obnoxious pigs, I am not fully convinced that rape is the correct term, or that there are any serious dangers online that can be equated to events in the physical world or what SL & other cybernauts call "RL" for Real Life.

I know this may raise the dander of my feminist friends, but I think that a lack of physical contact is a central consideration here. Perhaps it is a sign of our belief in the digital world and its reality that we are so willing to *equate* what happens online (essentially without our body, and totally without direct physical contact) with what happens in RL.

To say that what someone does to a digital image is the same as doing it to the person who created the image seems an unwarranted conflation of RL & SL. Would ex-lovers then be guilty of assault if they defaced a picture of their ex and then sent it to them? Harassment maybe, but surely not assault. No matter how much we might like to claim so, the digital is *not* the same as the physical world and it never will be.

Nevertheless, digital dangers do exist and caution is certainly warranted - ultimately we cannot know for sure who is at the other keyboard and our belief in their identity is purely an act of faith. With recent evidence of increases in State surveillance, as well as net stalking and identity theft, we should all be well aware that *no* electronic medium is completely private.

Unless a person reveals personal information or foolishly agrees to meet a complete stranger simply based on an avatar and some writing, there is little real danger in cyberspace.

At least that's my reading right here, right now. I'll let you know if I've changed my mind after I get trapped in some digital dive!

1 comment:

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