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Tuesday, December 06, 2005

IMPEACHABLE OFFENSE

A pervasive political statement or quasi-griefing scheme (or both) comes to Second Life-- again and again, and maybe yet again...

So when you're trying to run an honest sex club on a pleasant foothill off the highway, you probably want the clientele in the lobby to enjoy the view outside, while waiting to enjoy the services provided within. The mini-mall across the way, for example, or the mansions up the slope. Though maybe not the giant, multi-color sign floating right outside, the one emblazoned with the words "SUPPORT OUR TROOPS - End the Illegal War in Iraq - Restore US credibility - IMPEACH BUSH". Because even if the clientele happened to agree with the sentiment, it's probably not something that gets people in the mood.

Especially if it's a sign they've already seen in Second Life, in so many places-- floating above mountains, along roads next to castles and fine suburbs, next to shopping centers and casinos, looming over nightclubs and lakes.

"It's really annoying," OnnaYokai Yamabushi, proprietor of the Cage of Sin, told me. "It looks horrible, too. They're [on] really small parcels and priced way too high."

When I talked with her several weeks ago, one of the dozens of "Impeach Bush" signs that appeared in Second Life recently was hovering right outside the Cage of Sin. Like the rest of them, the property where the sign resided had been set for sale, at disproportionately high rates-- often L$500 or 1000 (about $2 to $4, at market rates) for a plot of land no bigger than an Afghan rug. So if Mistress OnnaYokai wanted the call to impeach George W. Bush to darken her door no longer, she'd have to pay the price of a small latte. Or maybe even go high as Venti size.

Too steep for her, in any case. "I can deal with it," she told me. "I figure I just don't have to look out the window. I haven't had any of my guests complain about it, so it's not really hurting me in any way."

But the dozens of signs have had a lasting impact on Second Life culture, beginning with an enraged Forum topic on the subject.

"I play Second Life to get away from such nonsense," Ranma Tardis, a Resident from Japan, fumes to me after posting there. "This is suppose to be a happy place! Too rude, people deserve respect."

The in-world response has taken several forms-- most prominently, a rash of giant signs put up to decry the original signs.

"Yes, I agree it doesn't help the view," acknowledges Dook Buckenburger, one of the counter-sign creators. "But if I don't do anything, will anyone? The fact that you're asking me about them means that it has, if maybe just a little, had the intended effect... I feel it is disgusting what this person is doing. It is painfully obvious this person is not making a political statement in any way."

In all this back and forth, Linden Lab has not taken a view on the spread of "Impeach Bush" signage across the continent one way or the other. They have removed a few of them, Daniel Linden, Director of Community Services, tells me. This has provoked complaints from Residents who support their message, and believed the Lindens were restricting free political speech.

Not at all, says Daniel Linden. "Some neighbors thought we were acting in a reactionary manner," he explains, "when in fact the only reason we removed them is they overhung parcel boundaries. Content is something that Linden Lab is not concerned with unless it crosses the line into 'broadly offensive'. The only time we'd remove a sign for content would be under that circumstance." (As spelled out in Linden Lab's Community Standards, that rubric includes publicly viewable profanity and nudity, for instance.) "There's no free speech issue as far as I'm concerned," he says.

As for their status as an "eyesore", Daniel Linden goes on, "It's not for us to decide the relative merit of construction in Second Life. We'd also remove the signs if they were script-intensive or a targeted attempt to harass another Resident." (Being a public figure, he adds, it would not become harassment if President Bush ever decided to get a Second Life account.) As for Residents accusations of "extortion", he continues, "If someone can demonstrate a concerted attempt to extort then we would appropriate action."

The day before Thanksgiving, I reached the owner of the many "Impeach Bush" plots scattered all over the world, interviewing him via a long series of IMs that he replied to, he says, via cell phone text messages while on a train cutting through Middle America. Rather than refer to him by his Second Life name, I'll call him "Jedidiah Profane"-- reflecting New World Notes' general standard not to give press to those engaged in griefing.

That's even though, in this case, Jedidiah Profane's signs don't explicity violate Linden policy. In my own judgment, griefing is at heart an attempt to violate the implicit social contract to sufficiently maintain the consensus reality necessary for an online world to function. By puncturing that illusion, artificially imposing reminders that we're not really in an alternate world of castles and clubs, and we're just displaying a stream of 3D images regulated by a monetized data management system onto our computers-- the magic leaks away. And then we really are just in a three-dimensional Web, and not another world. And whether it's an honest attempt to express a political opinion, or just a clever way to make money-- or perhaps more likely, a calculated experiment to test the limits of expression in Second Life-- I'm erring on the side of caution here.

But motivations are for the reader to decide. What follows after the break is my complete conversation with Jedidiah Profane, edited only for grammar and clarity.

Update, 12/8, 9:15pm SLT: Voting to impeach the impeacher: approximately 24 hours ago, Schwanson Schlegel created a Second Life Forum poll, querying, "Should Linden Lab just ban the 'Impeach Bush' guy?"

As of now, 204 Residents have voted, 25.49% saying "No"-- and 74.51% voting, "Yes, ban this a**hole."

(I begin by asking Jedidiah Profane his motive for the "Impeach Bush" signs.)

Definitely as a political statement. Nothing more.

But you're making a lot of money selling the plots, right?

No. Definitely not making lots of money. I haven’t gone through the details at that level, but I doubt one parcel in ten sells at all. More likely one in twenty. Nobody’s getting rich here.

Have you seen the controversy in the Forums this has caused?

No. I’m not terribly interested in the Forums anyway. They’re mostly filled with misinformation and rumor.

A lot of people who agree with [your] politics think you're actually doing harm to the message by leaving what they say are "eyesores" in the world.

If folks are talking in the Forums, good for them. At least they’re talking. I like to think thinking goes with talking, and making people think is my goal.

But what do you say to the opinion that it's actually making people think of "Impeach Bush" in a negative light, since the signs are eyesores to them?

I suspect the sore is in the eye of the beholder. One need not look very far in Second Life to find an eyesore. Personally, I think the eyesore argument is a bit thin. Again, I’m just glad they’re thinking. If they have better ideas, I challenge them to act on them.

How many plots of land do you have your signs on?

I haven’t counted closely lately, but I know it’s more than 200.

So why do you want Bush impeached?

The sign says impeach because I [decided] that is the right way to bring the facts to light. In a court. Just as Clinton was tried for lying about getting a blow job, George needs to be tried for lying about motives for invading Iraq.

What evidence would you cite for Bush lying about motives for invading Iraq?

Sorry guy. You’re talking to the wrong man. If I started down that road we’d be here all night and you’d have to challenge every word I said. As you should. I’d like to suggest that your readers look to their newspapers, and maybe public radio. There’s more to read than I could ever cite.

I'm surprised you're not interested in airing your political opinion.

My opinion is pretty obvious: Bush bad! It’s the reasoning that requires volumes.

How much Linden Dollars have you made so far from selling the land underneath the "Impeach Bush" signs?

Not much at all, Hamlet. A more appropriate question might be, How much have I spent? I don’t want to even think about that.

Could you give me a ballpark guess on how much you spent?

Well... that’s tough to do sitting on a train. I know it’s hundreds of US dollars. Plus the tier fees. It might be more. ["Tier fees": The monthly cost for land ownership, increased in proportion to acreage owned. -- HL]

If you're doing this as a political statement, why sell the land at all?

I want the exposure in the Finder. I used to make the land sellable only to me for a buck a plot. Two months and 250 dollars later, I found out only I could see it. Now I just crank up the price to discourage people. If someone insists on buying a plot, so be it. Those folks are few and far between. ["Find land": a command in the Second Life program that displays land for sale, including whatever title the owner gives it, i.e., "Impeach Bush"-- HL]

What's your response to people who say this is extortion?

I don’t care to respond to those folks. They are welcome to think what they like. I don’t feel any need to defend myself before them, and if I did, they would believe what they wanted anyway. I will say this, I have never asked anyone to buy land, and I don’t plan to.

You profile says you miss negative ratings. Why is that?

I think negative ratings serve a real purpose. People need to hear about it when they make a bad decision. Now, there’s less ways to get that message across. I’m guessing that the Lindens just got tired of all the whining over this.

If you got lots of negative ratings over these anti-Bush signs, would you take them down?

No. Negative ratings would not compel me to take the signs down.

Posted at 02:20 PM | Permalink

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Comments

Obviously this is an intelligent person behind these signs. Hopefully this article will quiet the forum threads on the subject down.

I never understood why it was such a big deal to people.

I guess people do need a common enemy, even if it doesn't make sense.

Posted by: Icon Serpentine at Dec 7, 2005 8:15:18 AM

Jedidiah Profane, translates to Blasphemous Pacifist or Peace keeper with dirty words, a bold rewrite for a "newsman" to use when covering the identity of his/her source. The rewrite obviously puts the reading in the line where the "newsman" wants it, along with the SL-as-a-secure-and-nice-place tone that follows (should we forbid P.Barnet holding speaches in SL aswel?).

Second, what the article strives for is a deliberalisation of SL. A more hierarchical gouverning of SL as a whole. This is not necessarily a bad thing as it would involve for instance public land (beyond the sandboxes, in between the parcels), buildig guidelines for architecture (as used in all major cities around the world) and ofcause democratic community involvement in these institutions in order to gouvern them.

Personally I hope that this kind of institutionalisation will never happen in SL. I hope SL will remain a place of "gradual concensus" and freedom of speech as its fundamental gouverning.

I wish JP good luck in using SL as a platform for his realization of his ideas and visions, and that he can achieve a communal impact in the future.

Posted by: Sorgaard Jacques at Dec 7, 2005 9:24:48 AM

Trade-offs, trade-offs. Being a moderated person myself, and not wishing to enter the much-discussed issue in the forums, my only question is where we draw the line at "free speech".

It's very, very hard to implement anarchy. Around my non-US city, everybody is allowed to post political messages — provided it's on city council-approved places (ie. sanctioned billboards). This means that no one can stop you to post whatever you like. But that you don't have the right to bother others with those. And, last but not least, residents in a neighbourhood are allowed to complain about a billboard that bothers them because either its contents or the location it occupies (if you're lucky enough to get the city council to act about it, well, that's another story...).

Now, SL hasn't "official space" for political messages or for billboards. It's completely anarchic in that respect. IMHO, it's *too* anarchic. I'd be more than welcome to embrace "Jedidiah Profane" message (I even tend to agree with him, although, as an European, his message is definitely wasted on a non-US citizen...) if it was put up on an "approved" site — say, one of the telehub ads, or on the Metaadverse. Instead, what we have is a complete and utter lack of respect of other people's right of not wishing to have their landscape polluted with visual noise.

Still, this is a very sensitive issue, and in SL there is only one choice: you don't like what you see, move elsewhere. What a pity for those groups painfully labouring to do something constructive in SL — being forced to move away because of one person's selfishness.

Posted by: Gwyneth Llewelyn at Dec 7, 2005 3:04:42 PM

This has to be the most rediculass thing I have read yet. This person by whatever name hes using now... in his profile had "Impeach George H Bush " . Now if this guy was sooooo politically savvy why is he asking us to impeach a FORMER president? Seeing as George H Bush is not the president anymore , just how are we supposed to impeach him? Even tho he has changed the profile since someone pointed it out, the fact he couldent tell the diffrence Between George HW and George W, it screams out that he dosent really know much politically, and is just attempting to show that horrid people DO exist.

Posted by: Dook Buckenburger at Dec 7, 2005 3:25:56 PM

Interesting. Very interesting. I have trouble believing that it is not land extortion for the simple fact of these plots being for sale. It does not take a search through land for sale to find any of these signs. Everyone knows about them. I'm pretty sure everyone has seen them.

I do agree that stifling free speech is a bad idea. However, Second Life to most residents is not a place for real life politics. If you really want to make people aware (and most of us are) putting up ugly signs in Second Life is most definitely not the way to go about it. Marking the plots for sale at outrageous prices will only serve to feed the fire of land extortion speculation. Now if you are serious about your political agenda, please put up more aesthetically pleasing signs, we are tired of looking at ugly ones.

Posted by: Joy Honey at Dec 7, 2005 4:27:24 PM

Oh yeah, like what he says is true. The guy is a griefer plain and simple. This guy turned around and harassed me both verbally & visually when he saw I put up a wall to block them from my view along with a sign up to protest against what he's doing. I couldn't care less about Impeaching Bush since it wouldn't change anything. MY customers complained and I lost alot of business because of his signs. Friends have been forced to move and land values are dropping in the sims he owns plots in. Yeah, he's really doing no harm.

Posted by: Ron Overdrive at Dec 7, 2005 6:32:37 PM

This fellow - and, to keep the game going, let's call him Woodrow Wilson Smith Deus, just to get REALLY nerdy - is also quite abusive to anyone who would DARE block off the view of his "masterpiece". Not just in my own documented case (where, yes, I sort of tiptoed around the TOS m'self to prove a point) but people placing up walls to block off the view on their own property.

He's pretty clearly the sort of person Gabe so clearly detailed in the classic "Green Backboards" strip (which I listed as my URL for this post).

Posted by: Aliasi Stonebender at Dec 7, 2005 9:33:16 PM

If you are trying to make a political statement but you haven't irritated anyone, then you aren't making your political statement properly.

So this guy, if he's smart, is seeing everyone complaining about it and is smiling, because the complaints in some way are a measure of success.

Especially since he's saying he just wants to get people to think.

After all, the most potent and powerful political tool leaders can use to get their way is to lull people into apathy.

Posted by: Vincent Doctorow at Dec 7, 2005 11:48:19 PM

Vincent, he has not changed my political views (look at the Trackback above for that, and while you're at it peruse the weblog). My views on the world are already warped as it stands. ;)

My concerns focus more on how he's going about doing this, and what that may do for overreacting Residents requesting recourse or a change in LL's policies.

--Alan

Posted by: Alan_Kiesler at Dec 8, 2005 12:11:46 AM

Well it does not good to get people to think "gee you are a greedy jerk" when you want them to think about why you want bush impeached.` I find it impossible to take him or his message as anything but thinly vield attempt at extortion. At best its foolish, and at worst its extortion. I find littel to choose between them.

Posted by: Jake reitveld at Dec 8, 2005 12:04:02 PM

If he genuinely wanted just to get his message out on thousands of parcels, he could buy these tiny parcelettes of 32 or 64 m2 and just *keep them* and *not put them for sale*. The fact that he has put them for sale, and not at $1000 as you say, but $5000 or lately, far more outrageous sums like $125,000 for an entire bouquet of them, proves that he is deliberately creating a nuisance -- a nuisance he knows liberals in SL will feel bad about countering -- and then *extorting you to pay* to make it go away. Here's what he does now: I complain to a seller of these small parcels that he is feeding this extortionist. The dealer agrees to stop. I put up my Anti-Extortionist Tool Kit which I've been distributing (petitions to Philip Linde, Huge Pine Tree, signs, etc.). He then leaves the area, but when a plot I set to sale to someone is sold and then put out again, he buys up that large plot this time, even at a market price, and suddenly deploys all his signs again to deliberatley harass me because I'm campaigning against him, and this time writes DO NOT BUY THIS LAND! as a phony gesture to the Lindens, who finally had announced on the Linden forums that people can abuse-report him for his extortion of a sale. Duh, if you don't want someone to buy land and want to just have a political message *you don't set it to sale at an outrageous price*.

His claim that he sells few of them is belied by the malicious glee with which he has said "oops, there goes another one! Sold!" to me several times during conversations when I've confronted him about his evil tactics.

Creating a nuisance deliberately, so as to force people to buy land to make the nuisance go away, is indeed extortion.

Governments can limit speech as to time, place, and manner. These signs are in the wrong place and in a malicious and extortionist manner.

I take it as a hopeful sign that he is now gone from the residents list, tho the signs remain.

But the Lindens let this go on mainly to drive people to the private islands so they can dump us all off the mainland grid, which just creates too many customer service problems for them.

Posted by: Prokofy Neva at Dec 9, 2005 12:46:31 AM

Linden Labs, as Prokofy notes this person is selling these plots of land 16 square meters for 125,000 dollars... Thats extortion.

You need to do something about this Linden Labs.

Posted by: Magnum Serpentine at Dec 9, 2005 8:11:50 AM

He's either a) a maroon, or b) a maroon.

Maybe he's sincere about the message. But then he's an idiot, because -- and I'm guessing here -- his signs have changed a grand total of zero minds. And meanwhile, he's paying to own the land. And he won't even talk to Hamlet about *why* he feels that way? Sincerely held beliefs... riiiiight.

Or he's a maroon because b) it really is land extortion, and someday (hopefully soon) people will realize that the best way to get back at him is to stick him with tiny parcels of land that no one will buy.

Posted by: Lorelei Patel at Dec 9, 2005 8:13:27 AM

As of now, 204 Residents have voted, 25.49% saying "Yes"-- and 74.51% voting, "Yes, ban this a**hole."

Um, that would be X%(it has changed since) saying "NO"

Posted by: Name at Dec 9, 2005 1:14:31 PM

Whoops, my bad, will fix.

Posted by: Hamlet Linden at Dec 10, 2005 12:11:32 PM

This is going to happen a lot in the future. There's also the matter of builds that block your view or just look ugly. There is a very very simple solution to this issue. Enhance the client to ignore the builds of a person you designate. The client ignores it so you can see through it and pass through it and not know it's there.

This would solve a huge number of future problems as well.

Posted by: LupineFox at Dec 11, 2005 8:33:40 PM

What I find interesting is that the guy says he is motivated to "make people talk" but then he admits that he doesn't even read the forums -- he basically says they aren't worth his time.

To me, it's odd if your goal is to promote discourse that you then consider to far beneath you to even participate in.

Posted by: fangmonster at Dec 11, 2005 8:38:54 PM

I hope I'm not busting any bubbles here, but it appears someone needs to do some basic fact checking. To start off, "I know it's more than 200" is an intentional misrepresentation. I've been tracking these down and got tired of counting at 500. I suspect there are at least 1000. Secondly, to call someone intelligent that brags in their profile, "I have more money than brains, that's a good thing right?" seems just a little off base. Then we come to the land sales finder, which is clogged with these ads that say “don’t buy this”. Intentional abuse is what I call that. As for the people that want to label anyone that doesn't like the adverts as Bush supporters, I can only hope you get to experience the mass exodus and plummeting property values that occur when one of these ugly purple and orange offenses goes up in your neighborhood. I’m trying to sell my plot for half what I paid and can’t get a buyer as there are 20 other plots for sale near mine. Of course, there’s always a good chance I’ll move and this jerk will move in next door. His scam is to buy a plot, then sale all but a 4x4 section to some unsuspecting buyer. He doesn’t post his ad cubes until after the sale.

But I have a solution :)

Anyone that would like one of my patent pending "ugly covers" should IM me. I've scripted a nice little box frame that wraps completely around these without intruding onto the 4x4 square of property these are typically found on, and auto builds to whatever height required to hide the eye sore.

Posted by: Sven Torgeson at Dec 12, 2005 10:23:58 PM

I agree Hamlet..this is just a start to 'offensive', which, is also a matter of opinion. I've discussed this situation with people who are not in sl and; it comes down to, how do you regulate it? You can't. If MacDonald's, or some such other mega company decides to buy up land in SL....it will be the same complaint, or not, depending if you like to see the sign that reminds you of Big Macs. The solution is to make it a choice of how to 'see' the sl world.

Posted by: Ronnie Revere at Dec 15, 2005 7:42:09 PM

Pffft If I got an ?-day ban (still waiting for an answer) for talking in no uncertain terms about U.S. foreign policy in the Barbie club I am sure the Lindens wouldn't bat an eyelash for banning the creator of those billboards.

Oh I forgot, that guy gets them MONEY. I don't. Damn I forgot *slaps head* "capitalism". Gotta love it.

Posted by: Khannea Suntzu at Dec 17, 2005 8:53:27 AM

The more I study this issue, the more I have to ask why the Lindens can't invoke the language about spam (replicating transmissions across sims) or about "disturbing the peace" (interfering with the enjoyment of SL).

A key reason the Lindens do nothing about this blight and wring their hands with liberal angst is because their amen-corner among the FIC on the forums keeps branding this as a "freedom to create issue".

These are the same people who go into epileptic fits and complain about eye-bleeds when there is too much Tringo and Blingo on the events list and even call for posses of residents to be empowered to remove what they view as objectionable content from the events lists.

These are the people who go into spasmodic convulsions and hysteria over Anshe Chung's employees sending out a notecarded offering of land -- so neuralgic are they about "spam".

Why can't they gin up that kind of indignation about real spam, spam that covers the actual ground and covers our view corridors?

Posted by: Prokofy Neva at Dec 23, 2005 4:26:47 PM

The signs are disgusting. Especially the part I was unaware of whereupon plots of land are sold, except for small "sign sized pieces" that conveniently do not sprout one of those eyesores until after the new resident moves in. That is absolutely ridiculous.

It would be nice if a 512 meter sq. plot was the smallest allowed to be sold period no matter what (or 256 or whatever a reasonably large enough size would sell for x amount of Lindens to make this venture unprofitable) but I guess that interferes with free market principles, etc... ?

Posted by: MacLifer Resistance at Jan 8, 2006 12:05:50 PM

>If he genuinely wanted just to get his message out on thousands of parcels, he could buy these tiny parcelettes of 32 or 64 m2 and just *keep them* and *not put them for sale*...

Regardless of my personal views on JP and his motivations, I think the original interview states very clearly that he wants the message "Impeach Bush" to appear in the Find Land listings, as part of the message he wants to get across -- which is why he didn't choose to simply keep them.

People can avoid the signs in-game, but they can't avoid the message if it appears often in the Find Land listings.

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