Second Life News: Congressman Mark Kirk v. Second Life

May 14th, 2008  |  Published in Second Life News  |  5 Comments

Second Life News Report, Eric Gregory

By Eric Gregory

On Tuesday May 6, Rep. Mark Kirk (R-Ill.) held a press conference in Chicago to denounce institutionally-sponsored access to virtual worlds and social networking sites like Second Life. Rep. Kirk reaffirmed his commitment to a bill sponsored over a year ago <> that would require federally-funded institutions such as schools and libraries to block children’s access to any “commercial social networking Web site or chat room unless used for an educational purpose with adult supervision.” One of Rep. Kirk’s aides allegedly gained access to Second Life (a veritable den of the most abject iniquities, if you accept Kirk’s fevered summation) by simply entering his age as 18 while setting up an account. While Second Life does request age verification, there are obvious and uncomplicated ways of circumventing the blocks. This leads Kirk (and, it seems, a majority of other representatives, as an earlier version of the “Deleting Online Predators Act” passed in the House by a 410-15 vote in 2006. It was shut down in the Senate) to presume that scores of minors will be swarming our public libraries to frolic in “rape rooms, brothels, and drug stores.”

Unfortunately, for Kirk and his fellow crusaders, the American Libraries Association opposes the Act, arguing that virtual worlds often double as effective learning applications. What typically goes unsaid, and thus gets “lost” in these types of ideological debates, are complicated and engaged discussions about U.S. educational and public institutional commitments to “freedom” (and by extension–“unfreedom”). Blocking access to sites such as Second Life via federal legislation constitutes a form of censorship—something most U.S. public library systems staunchly oppose (the U.S. educational system, on the other hand, has been less successful in holding its constitutional ground). And as the story typically goes, our “innocent” children are the victims in this dark and debased theatre. While Kirk’s worst visions don’t appear to be based in any “actual” experiences (at least none beyond his aide’s ability to access Second Life by lying about his age), this appeal to a mythical child—a child unspoiled, blameless, yet uncontrollably drawn to the corrupt—becomes the basis of a necessary and violent legislative intervention into public “freedoms.” Your adult “freedoms” must be sacrificed for the sake of this mythical child. Instead of according local institutions the ability and responsibility of defining and maintaining rules of “reasonable” access, Kirk and his fellow congresspeople offer a totalizing clampdown. Instead of considered discussion and negotiation, Kirk offers hysteria and fear-mongering. And by using “our children” as the cover story for his “infantilized” moral politics, he constructs an argument that most opponents refuse to deconstruct at face value. Although it appears unlikely that the “Deleting Online Predators Act” (apparently this “online predator” means you; the SL user who might access his account via a public institutional computer) will make it through both congressional houses, refusal to engage with Kirk’s discourse and its most explicitly troubling metaphors means that these kinds of totalizing assaults on “public” privacy will continue to define the terms and rules of contemporary political engagement.


  1. PrinterBrian says:

    May 15th, 2008at 7:50 am(#)

    Indeed. Why the US culture prefers to protect and shield our children instead of educating them to understand and identify risks and threats is beyond me.

    Was at a Virtual Worlds education event at Boston College a few months ago and it was filled with educators. They all were expressing concern on safety and how to do they limit and the schools will not allow and so on. The guy talking looked at everyone and said. I was in Iceland a month ago and we were talking about a similar thing, but when I asked about safety they looked at me and said, our schools have no protections on internet like that, we educate our children to think for themselves.

    Made me want to experience Iceland.

  2. Eric S. Gregory says:

    May 15th, 2008at 8:55 am(#)

    Nice response. It’s an uphill and probably unresolvable problem here in the states as this kind of moralizing is embedded in the way we talk about politics, etc.
    I think the trick (and it’s a difficult one to navigate) is to strategically and carefully attempt to reframe the way we discuss these issues without excluding the extremist positions (on all sides). Although “moderation” appears to be the winning strategy come election time, one can argue that it also has us deadlocked and stratified so that very little interesting discussion/debate can take place.

  3. PrinterBrian says:

    May 15th, 2008at 2:20 pm(#)

    Indeed, its is a common problem when ever there is a group larger than 10 people. The political process whether government or business is difficult terrain, wether various agenda’s or ego’s its not always the greater good that is the answer. This to me is the most unfortunate consequence, that the goal to improve is not always the primary focus, or it is, but in a very fuzzy way.

    In most discussion that i have had or witness, the general jist is to pull someone to the middle ground, but often the tact is to be extreme on your point so you hope they land in the middle as you said above. With our hyper PC culture and how the political process works, it is very difficult to express ones self in any extreme or resolute way, especially when one is looking to land the job.

  4. Sigmund Leominster says:

    May 18th, 2008at 6:31 pm(#)

    When I first moved from Europe in 1995, a good friend from Pittsburgh told me “Remember, America was founded by Puritans – and it still shows!” Although it would be unfair to make such a blanket statement, it is very apparent to “outsiders” that there is a cultural viewpoint in the US that certain groups of people need to be “looked after” and that various pressure groups exist to “speak up for” others. This is a phenomenon that crosses political boundaries, with both left- and right-wing groups claiming to “defend the [insert group here] from corruption and exploitation.”

    Freedom of Speech is, for me, perhaps THE defining feature of the American experience, being enshrined in the constitution and, generally, being adhered to by politicians. However, it is so much taken for granted that its erosion would not be noticed until it has gone. When elected officials take it upon themselves to tinker with the constitution by trying to weaken freedom of speech under the guise of protecting children, be wary!

    The tendency to want to protect sadly undermines the necessity to teach. Life is nasty, brutish, and short, and to try to cover that fact up by creating a “safe society,” – where even playgrounds are banned because kids might hurt their knees and sue – is a false solution. Smoking is bad? Ban it. Drinking is bad? Prohibit it. Offensive language is bad? Disallow it. The pattern here is to stifle the supply, not the demand.

    The way to handle the harsh realities of life is to teach our kids how to deal with it. As they say, give a man a fish and he eats for the day; teach him to fish and he eats for life. Time to stop throwing fish at our kids (red herrings) and give them a fishing rod.

  5. PrinterBrian says:

    May 19th, 2008at 7:58 am(#)

    Nice post Sigmund. I used the teach a person to fish saying quite often.