Term Paper: Ethical Issues and Second Life

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Ethical Issues and Second Life

"At Linden Lab, creativity and innovation drive our business…we work hard and have plenty of fun along the way… we know it's our job to make dreams come true for our customers. It's all just part of our culture, the fabric of what makes us tick…" (Linden Lab Careers).

Ethical Issues in Second Life -- Botterbusch & Talab

One of the first questions to be asked in this paper is, what is Second Life? Botterbusch and Talab explain that it is a "3-D virtual world" that is created "entirely" by residents who "live" there. Apparently about 60,000 or more "residents" per day participate in this virtual world, and they hold conferences, various meetings, there is a "career exploration" component and research projects are carried out as well (Botterbusch, et al., 2009, p. 9). There are also educational groups in Second Life (Ohio Learning Network, the Association for Educational Communications and Technology, and the International Society for Technology in Education, among others) and come government-level groups as well (NOAA and NASA).

The authors state that there are "many Ethical Issues in Second Life." Perhaps one reason there are ethical issues is that users have no fear "of consequences" that may result from unethical activities in the "real world." In other words a person can get away with being unethical in a virtual world hence there are behaviors like: copyright infringement; spamming; multiple identities; identity deception; and possessing "illicit materials" (Botterbusch, 9). As if that list isn't enough evidence of breaches of what "real world" society considers ethical, there are also privacy breaches, eavesdropping, breaches of confidentiality and proprietary information, and even "harassment, vandalism" and stealing passwords. Let's not forget trademark infringements.

What is the position that these two authors take with reference to ethical lapses in Second Life (SL)? They begin this portion of their paper by following the trail of "Miss Avatar," who went into the virtual world as a good looking but naive character. Not long after arriving, Miss Avatar accepted an invitation from a "creative creature" and was "teleported to lands unknown to witness things that cannot be said within these pages" (Botterbusch, 10). A reader can assume those unmentionable activities were sexual in nature (the "seedy" side of SL). And later she agreed to change into a "furry skin" which was also a mistake because she then had to "fend off" aggressors' "unwanted advances" (Botterbusch, 10).

The authors approach four scenarios in this article, all designed to examine the ethical issues that are part and parcel with SL. "Exploitation" is scenario one, and it related to her being apparently caught in the "seedy" side of SL. The independent security analysts the authors consulted suggested money could be stolen (exploited) from "innocent Second Life victims" (10). Scenario two related to her changing into fur and the aggressive actions of males toward her. The "GoodPlay Project" was discussed, and it relates to the "promises and perils" of being in a virtual world. Scenario three deals with identity; after becoming interested in "Mr. Avatar" Miss Avatar was "mortified" when Mr. Avatar just said goodbye and logged off.

What, no identifying of his real life person? The reason Mr. Avatar may have split so suddenly is because research shows "80% of female avatars are actually men and 75% of male avatars are actually women" (Botterbusch, 10). So ethically, what a reader gets from this is that it can be a big lie when it comes to identity: anyone can be any gender they wish to because no one really knows who or what you are. Scenario four clearly shows that there are a lot of people in SL that are there to harass others and vandalize others. They are called "griefers" and they "derive enjoyment" that comes to them from "…being obstructive," from "preventing the enjoyment of others" and from "wasting a person's time" (Botterbusch, 11).

What this sounds like is that antisocial people who would be arrested or otherwise sanctioned for their boorish, bullish behaviors in the real world, can ply their scoundrel's trade in SL. Scenario five deals with crime; Miss Avatar was ripped off as "someone had used a Copybot to steal her digital coded goods" as well as her "trademarked logos and name brands" and they were selling them. Botterbusch mentions other crimes that actually hurt real people in the actual world on page 11. In their last paragraph, the authors say merely that "It is hoped" that the information they presented about exploitation, harassment, stealing of identities, crime and vandalism "will guide the reader into making ethical decisions" when using SL for educational or other purposes. That is not a very strong condemnation of what seems like a virtual world where crime and viciousness are welcomed and even embraced. It's all part of the fun, right?

Other Ethical Issues Related to Cyberspace

As for John Berti's article in IT Pro, he covers the legal and illegal (read that, unethical) approached to copyright issues. On page 42 he updates readers on exactly what "intellectual property" really is (books, music, plays, movies, computer software, photos, paintings, etc.), and he briefly describes appropriate laws. The crux of the article related to how easy it is for Internet users to copy intellectual property "with the click of a button, at no cost whatsoever" (Berti, 2009, p. 42). Most copyright infringement is done by younger people, Berti explains, and those who infringe justify their "illegal activities" as just part of the online experience -- hey, it's free and I don't know any better so I'll just take it, seems to be the attitude.

In reality, ripping off films and music is more than an infringement of copyright, it is taking money away from the people who made the movies and music. Meanwhile Berti insists that the fight against illegal downloading has been waged in the wrong way. Those trying to stop pirating (illegal downloading) are concentrating on just closing down illegal sites on the Internet, or taking legal action against those operating the illegal sites, Berti explains on page 42. However, he believes that launching an "awareness campaign" starting with elementary school age students -- or "even earlier" -- will have more success.

One reason just shutting down illegal sites isn't going to work is because attitudes are formed at a fairly young age and some young people actually see ripping off movies and music and other intellectual property as "an act of revolution or a form of anarchy that promotes the free exchange of information" (Berti, 43). The author may have something there when he writes that ethical attitudes begin at a young age, but he doesn't explain how any kind of campaign can be launched to impress elementary school kids and those even younger.

He might have spent more time laying out the plan he alluded to, rather than explore a lot of technical data about copyrights. There is no harm in educating readers, and Berti does that on pages 44 and 45, adding that there are digital strategies that could be used to prevent illegal downloading. However, he hit the nail on the head when he pointed to attitudes that young adults and teenagers tend to have about illegal downloading: "If I can get it for free, why pay for it?" (43).

In the September 21 ProQuest report, the authors point out how dramatically the World Wide Web has evolved and changed in the past twenty years or so. It was "relatively flat" and very "non-interactive" in its formidable days, but in 2011 the Web is re-defining the roles that people and the law used to play vis-a-vis mass media. The Web invites users to "participate in the creation and maintenance of the collective work" as the audience is morphing into more than an audience -- indeed, the audience is the creative force and the publisher of content (Moringiello, et al., 2008). This participatory process is all well and good, the authors explain, but attorneys and those in the publishing industry are on the lookout for copyright infringement, violations of rights of privacy, content that is libelous, and discrimination against people of specific ethnicities.

Among the many issues that have the potentiality of creating problems for users, lawyers, and content providers -- and there are a plethora of potential and current issues that offer contentiousness and confusion -- the authors of this ProQuest article ask, "How do we know if the person on the other end of a stream of electrons is who he or she claims to be?" When encountering another user on Facebook, for example, "…a wise user generally starts with a presumption that the person on the other side of an electronic-only meeting may well not be the person claimed" (Moringiello). In this scenario, the user can't ask for ID, and as a result new technologies must be developed to eliminate the ethical dilemma associated with the identity concerns online. And yes, the authors admit, there will likely always be… [END OF PREVIEW]

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Ethical Issues and Second Life.  (2011, October 5).  Retrieved May 27, 2019, from https://www.essaytown.com/subjects/paper/ethical-issues-second-life/854306

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"Ethical Issues and Second Life."  Essaytown.com.  October 5, 2011.  Accessed May 27, 2019.
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