There have recently been a number of changes make the the Second Life Forums. Some of these are physical (layout, requiring an additional log-in to view some topics, and so on, while on July 29th, 2022, the Lab rolled out new Policy and Participation Guidelines for all of the major forum Topics.
Most of these Guidelines are relative innocuous (e.g. no advertising products, no solicitation, etc.), and each set has been tailored to define the function of the Topic to which it relates and (particularly) was is / is not permissible in terms of discussions / thread within the Topic.
However, some of the new Guidelines – such as the General Discussion Policy and Participation Guidelines and those that relate to Topics that might be seen as allowing discussion of non-Second Life specific subjects – have been worded in such a way so as to generate an understandable amount of concern, as has what has been seen as a sudden, and at time apparently heavy-handed, increase in forum moderation by the Lab.
Because of the latter, Keira Linden – who, as the Support Operations Manager, now has Governance directly under her management – attended the August Web User Group meeting to try to provide insight into the reasoning behind the policy changes and their implementation.
The meeting was recorded by Pantera Północy, and will be subject to one of my usual Web User Group summaries. However, for the benefit for forum users who prefer to read notes rather than watch video, I am using this article to offer a summary of the comments and feedback from the WUG meeting, together with a relevant extract from the video.
When reading the points below, please note:
- I have attempted to organise the comments made and feedback given into some form of logical order, so this summary may not reflect the order of discussion in the video.
- This is intended as an objective summary of comments made at the meeting devoid of subjective feedback from me, so that those most affected by the changes can directly digest the comments and feedback for themselves.
- LL believes it has always had a fairly “open-door” policy towards discussion on the forums: so long as threads and comments adhere to the Lab’s Terms of Service, Second Life Terms and Conditions and Community Standards, they have – in general – been allowed.
- However, in the last few years there has been a lot going on in the world which has generated an increasing amount of “hot button” topics within the forums which have no direct relationship with / bearing on Second Life per se, but which have significantly complicated matters of moderation.
- As a result, and after internal discussions, etc., the decision was taken to implement the new Topic-specific Policy and Participation Guidelines.
- It is understood that some of these new Guidelines are proving unpopular, as people do see them as impinging on their ability to discuss subjects that are of import to them as a global community – but it was felt that approaching matters in this way was the most direct means of encouraging the core aim of maintain the focus of threads and discussions within the forum on Second Life, and not on world affairs.
- As a result, moderation (and the potential locking) of threads deemed to be “inappropriate” will now be more stringent going forward.
- However, due to their “historic” significance some threads and discussions will remain “as is”.
- While this has been a change driven entirely out of the Lab with little in the way of forewarning to users, Keira is open to hearing feedback on the changes, and people can e-mail her via keira-at-lindenlab.com with their feedback / opinions / suggestions for alternate approaches.
User Feedback at the Meeting
- As implemented, the changes are still allowing some of the issues they were designed to prevent – such as political derailment of threads – to persist, whilst giving users the impression that they can no longer engage in general banter or any discussion of “real life” for fear of receiving a warning.
- Keira indicated that the Lab is still trying to be flexible in its approach to issues of derailment: where it happens but the topic / thread “self rights” to get back on topic, than there is an attempt to recognise this and not use blunt force moderation.
- Other critiques of the changes voiced at the meeting included:
- While there is a large LGBTQ+ community in SL, few engage in the forums, as they already feel unsafe because of the more virulent political commentary, and some of the new Guidelines do little to make them feel any safer.
- Those who lurk in the forums reading rather than posting, feel less sure about engaging in threads due to what appears to be unevenness in response to posts by the moderators single the guidelines came into force.
- The changes appear to be predicated on the idea that Second Life “is separate” from matters occurring in the physical world – yet Linden Lab itself raises political and other discourse through its support of physical world issues such as gender equality and BLM, its public stand against transphobia and Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, etc. In this, it was further noted:
- That the specific clause within some of the new Guidelines marking “Social Justice Issues” as being “not allowed” ignores the fact that these issues which exist within Second Life, and have thus formed a part of forum discussions.
- Trying to place a fence between Second Life and “real life” within the forums is damaging, because for many SL users, the platform is an extension of their “real lives”, not something entirely separate.
- Even the wording of the moderation warning being send out for “casual banter” appears to be overly aggressive [“Additional violations could result in your forum access being revoked, or additional action taken on your account”] and potentially discouraging users for continuing to use the forums.
- In response to these critiques, Keira noted:
- The Lab does try to look at threads, content and comments on a case-by-case basis and in context, rather than immediately turning to moderation / warnings, etc., the set wording of warnings notwithstanding.
- In terms of written warning, she acknowledged that things can be adjusted where required, and is willing to discuss specific cases with those involved.
- The Lab is not trying to force any form of separation between “SL” and “RL”, but is rather trying to address / remove complications of forum moderation and management that have notably increased over the last few years, noting that some forum discussions could better handled through other channels – including discussing them in-world – rather than using the forums.
- She also noted that the intention is not to preclude elements of “RL” discussions from the forums:
- So long as such discussions / threads pertain to, or reflect on, people’s SL activities / lives (or on Linden Lab / Tilia) in a reasonable way and reflect the TOS / CS, then they shouldn’t be a problem.
- The Lab would just prefer not to have to moderate / manage forum threads on topics that have absolutely no bearing on / relationship to Second Life [e.g. “post your RL pet pictures here!”].
- With regards to Keira’s comments on moving the discussion of some topics in-world, Reed Linden reiterated that insofar as in-world discussions and conversations, Linden Lab has always been, and remains, committed to the individual’s right of positive expression. Thus, there is no reason why topics such as transphobia, BLM, etc., cannot be openly discussed in-world.
- While general comments are always welcome on this blog, please note that if you have specific feedback / suggestions on the above that you wish Linden Lab to read, please ensure that you forward them to Keira Linden via e-mail (keira-at-lindenlab.com) – or perhaps via in-world note card if you prefer not to use e-mail. While this blog is read by the Lab, there is no guarantee that ides and suggestions posted here will be read & recorded by Lab staff.
- My thanks to Pantera for recording the meeting and making the video available via her You Tube channel.
- Please note that the extract was set-up to play the relevant part of the meeting video (from 1:48 through 17:12). However, it appears You Tube may have nerfed the use of both a start and end time stamp in the same iframe code (preferring the use of only one OR the other). So, if the video plays on beyond the 17:12 mark, feel free to tell it to shut up 🙂 – the rest of its contents, as they pertain to the Web User Group meeting can be found in my summary of the rest of the meeting.