Forum changes: Keira Linden speaks

via Linden Lab

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.

Keira’s Comments

  • 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.

Footnotes

  • 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.

 

Lab updates Terms of Service

LL logoUpdate, December 1st: Following my line to the Lab, the ToS was re-issued with Section 10.1 corrected to reference Section 11.5 instead of the incorrect Section 10.2, which had been removed with the original December 1st update. This article has been amended to reflect the update.

On Tuesday, December 1st, 2015, Linden Lab issued an updated Terms of Service (ToS) covering their Second Life and Blocksworld products – and for the first time, at least in recent updates, outline the specific changes which have occurred within the ToS, defining them as:

  • Removal of references to Desura (sold to Bad Juju Games in November 2014) and the Linden Dollar Authorised Reseller programme (discontinued as of August 2015)
  • Explicitly addressing the Lab’s intolerance of harassment of Linden Lab employees
  • Clarifying of the arbitration provision in accordance with applicable Californian law.

In addition, and in light of the formation of Tilia Inc., the Lab’s virtual currency subsidiary, the Terms of Service have been expressly expanded to define “the terms on which Linden Research, Inc. and its wholly owned subsidiaries (“Linden Lab”) offer you access to its interactive entertainment products and services.”

The alterations to reflect the fact the at the Linden Dollar Authorised Reseller programme is no more can seen in the massively foreshortened Section 4.7 of the revised Terms of Service, which once again make it clear that the only point of reference for the exchange of Linden Dollars for physical world currency may not occur anywhere outside of the LindeX, nor may Linden dollars be purchased other than via the LindeX.

The update to reflect the Lab’s intolerance of staff harassment can be found in a revision to Section 6.1. iv, to whit:

(iv) Post, display, or transmit Content (including any communication(s) with employees of Linden Lab) that is harmful, threatening or harassing, defamatory, libelous, false, inaccurate, misleading, or invades another person’s privacy; [my emphasis]

There has been speculation this relates to certain personal attacks directed towards Ebbe Altberg through the likes of Twitter. However, it would seem more likely (I would hope) that this section is intended to address similar attacks which have been made through the Lab’s own forums, etc., over which they have full jurisdiction.

Section 10 contains the changes to the arbitration process, with section 10.1 being greatly streamlined in content and focused directly on the requirements of the Commercial Arbitration Rules of the American Arbitration Association (“AAA”).

While I am not a lawyer – and so the following statement is purely speculative on my part – it would appear that included in these changes is an attempt to prevent class action suits from being bought against Linden Lab as a part of the arbitration process:

Should either you or Linden Lab elect to resolve the Dispute by way of binding arbitration, the arbitration shall proceed in accordance with the then-current Commercial Arbitration Rules of the American Arbitration Association (“AAA”), except that in no event shall the arbitration proceed as a class or representative action. [my emphasis]

One error with these latter updates is that they still reference section 10.2, which has in fact been removed from the ToS as a part of the updates; something that has been raised with the Lab. Section 10.1 now correctly references Section 11.5.

A further change, not mentioned at the head of the ToS can be found in Section 4.1, where the final paragraph has been revised to read:

You may not sell, transfer or assign your Account or its contractual rights, licenses and obligations, to any third-party (including, for the avoidance of doubt, permitting another individual to access your Account) without the prior written consent of Linden Lab.
[my emphasis]

This raises an interesting question around the subject of shared accounts – often used by groups where an account might be used by more than one person for administrative purposes, etc. While the sharing of account passwords has always been frowned upon, the revision to section 4.1 tends to suggest that these accounts could now be deemed as a violation of the ToS unless the Lab’s written consent is granted. I’ve written to the Lab on this point and am awaiting a reply.

Those hoping this update might see a further improvement to the wording in Section 2.3 relating to IP rights will be disappointed. The section is untouched and remains as much a mess of a word salad now as it did following the “clarification” of July 2014.

Lab calls a halt to the direct exchange of Linden Dollars to other virtual currencies

On Friday, March 13th, Hypergrid Business relayed news that Linden Lab has called a halt to the use of Linden Dollars outside of their own platforms.  The news itself came from the OpenSim based Avination, which has for several years provided the means to exchange Linden Dollars to their own currency (C$) via the use of an in-world ATM mechanism.

In an announcement, which has also been distributed to their users via e-mail, Avination state:  “Due to recent interaction with Linden Labs, we regret having to inform you that the transfer of Linden Dollars to Avination is no longer available, including the payment of your Avination sims via the Avination ATMs.”

The announcement goes on to further read in part:

Following discussions with Linden Labs they have advised that any use of Linden Dollars in payment for currency of ANY other virtual world, or for external services which are not used in SecondLife [sic] is in violation of the TOS …

According to Linden Labs [sic], users of SecondLife [sic] must cash out through LindeX before using real currency to pay for services not rendered within SL.

This move is being linked to matters of potential liability for the Lab. In 2013, the company moved to put greater controls on the re-sale of Linden Dollars through third-party exchanges. At the time, there was a lot of speculation (including my own) as to whether this was in response to FinCEN recommendations or as a more general means of dealing with issues of fraud, etc.

In 2013 the Lab moved to provide greater control over the re-sale of Linden Dollars, including prohibiting third-party exchanges from either buying back L$ amounts from users or providing them with the means to cash-out L$

While the Lab did subsequently allow third-party operations to continue to sell Linden Dollars to users (said L$ having been purchased from the Lab), a prohibition was placed on such operations to either buy L$ amounts from users or cash them out of the platform; a move which allowed the Lab to demonstrate it can effectively monitor and control the outward flow of money from Second Life.

However, it might be said the the use of in-world scripted devices such as “ATMs”, which enable the direct conversion of Linden Dollar values to other virtual currencies which can then be cashed out, potentially gives rise to liability exposure for the Lab, should it be shown that such mechanisms might be used for illegal purposes. Thus, the Lab has made this move to distance itself from such a risk.

In their announcement, Avination also suggest that this move may affect how Second Life users can pay for external services such as audio stream rentals in the future. Whether this is the case or not remains to be seen. Most of these services provide such a payment mechanism through a registered Second Life account, without any supplemental transfer of the value of the payment outside of the platform (the funds can effectively only be cashed-out via the Lab’s LindeX). Thus, there wouldn’t appear to be any issues with services working in this way to continue to do so. However, this is purely speculation on my part, and we’ll have to await official word from the Lab.

Related Links

SLBA ToS and Skill Gaming presentation

ToS-SLBA-2On Saturday August 2nd, 2014, Agenda Faromet, an attorney specialising in privacy and Internet law operating out of San Francisco, and a member of the SL Bar Association, gave a dual presentation on the recent (July 2014) changes to Section 2.3 of Linden Lab’s Terms of Service and on the changes to the Lab’s policy on Skill Gaming in Second Life, which are due to come into effect from September 1st.

In all, the session ran to over an hour and a half, with Agenda initially covering the ToS Section 2.3 updates and dealing with questions relating to that, before moving on to the changes to the Skill gaming policy, and then addressing questions arising from that.

The following is a transcript of the core of the presentation, split into two parts for ease of reference. Audio recordings are provided, and there will hopefully be a video of proceedings in due course. With reference to the audio recordings provided here, please note:

  • The audio has been edited to remove pauses. repetition or asides, in order to better match the text transcript and allow those who wish to listen as they read
  • There has been no intentional altering of anything said during the presentation and Q&A session, nor has the context of the presentation or answers been altered in any way, other than questions asked in text being the placed within the transcript at the point where they are answered (when compared to chat logs of the event), again for better context
  • Only those questions asked in text which were directly addressed by Agenda have been included in the transcript in order to maintain context with the audio recordings.

The two parts of the transcript, with their associated audio recordings, can be found as follows:

The following links may also be of assistance (will open in new tabs, and are repeated on the relevant pages above):

Terms of Service:

Skill Gaming:

 

Terms of Service – presentation reminder

ToS-SLBA-2
The formal announcement of the presentation

Just a quick reminder to all who are interested. As I blogged on July 24th, there will be a special presentation by Agenda Faromet on the July 2014 Terms of Service updates.

The presentation will take place on Saturday August 2nd, commencing at 10:00 SLT at the he SLBA courtroom.

Agenda is a real life attorney specialising in privacy and internet law operating out of San Francisco, and is a member of the SL Bar Association. She will be talking about both the changes made to Section 2.3 of the Terms of Service (the section relating to IP rights assigned to Linden Lab) and also on the changes to the Lab’s Skill Gaming Policy, which will be coming into effect as of September 1st, 2014 (having been previously scheduled for August 1st, 2014).

I hope to be able to record the meeting and provide a transcript through this blog for those who cannot attend.

The SLBA courtroom
The SLBA courtroom

About the SL Bar Association

The SL Bar Association (SLBA) is a group for legal professionals and others interested in legal issues in Second Life. It is registered as a 501(c)(6) organisation in the United States, and operates in Second Life from the Justitia Virtual Legal Resource Village, which serves as a resource for both attorneys and the general public, and has law offices available to rent on the square, along with general legal information on a variety of topics.  Rental units are also available at sea level.

Details of SLBA talks and presentations can be found on the SLBA website, together with further information on the association and its members.

Related Links

In-world legal presentation on the recent updates to the Lab’s Terms of Service

I’ve received a press release from the SL Bar Association SLBA) announcing that Agenda Faromet, who in the physical world is an attorney specialising in privacy and internet law operating out of San Francisco, will be discussing the July 16th, 2014, changes to Section 2.3 of Linden Lab’s Terms of Service and also the recent changes to the Lab’s Skill Gaming policy.

Agenda Faromet (via profile)
Agenda Faromet (via profile)

The press release reads in part:

Linden Lab has recently announced changes to the Terms of Service associated with Second Life.  This change comes almost a year after the major controversy that erupted last year over a substantial change in section 2.3 of the agreement with users of Second Life, related to the license claimed by Linden Lab in works created by creators in-world.  Please join us for a lively discussion of the actual language changes from the prior terms of service.  Agenda will also discuss other changes implemented by Linden Lab, including the gaming policy.

The discussion is set to take place in the SLBA courtroom, starting at 10:00 SLT on August 2nd.

I hope to be able to attend the meeting and provide a transcript through this blog.

About the SL Bar Association

The SL Bar Association (SLBA) is a group for legal professionals and others interested in legal issues in Second Life. It is registered as a 501(c)(6) organisation in the United States, and operates in Second Life from the Justitia Virtual Legal Resource Village, which serves as a resource for both attorneys and the general public, and has law offices available to rent on the square, along with general legal information on a variety of topics.  Rental units are also available at sea level.

Details of SLBA talks and presentations can be found on the SLBA website, together with further information on the association and its members.