Thursday, July 1st, 1869

Dear Diary,

Whilst perusing the various and sundry accounts of new and daily life offered on the aetheric communication compendium known as “the internet,” I came across this most interesting tidbit. Not only have the yanks suffered a terrible natural disaster, but it seems that their journalists are encountering some difficulty in asserting their first amendment right to report on the spill. The communication ended with an invitation to discuss civil rights in our own nations of origin, and so I gleefully take up the challenge with this entry.

I am a citizen of Caledon, an emerging micro-nation with the distinction of being “located,” as it were, “on the grid” of Second Life. In other words, ours is a virtual world. Prims and link groups are our brick and mortar. Our life expectancy is short, relying on a combination of fair weather and working modems. Our pers0nalities and physical forms are as transient as they come. And yet, even in a virtual world created and owned by a virtual “Govnah,” we employ a bill of avatar rights.

One of those rights is freedom of speech, although no specific mention is made of the press. In Caledon, an avatar may speak or write as he/she/it thinks or feels, provided that said speech does not consist of slander or libel (difficult to tell apart in an environment in which most avatars “talk” via typed text), hate speech, fraud, or harassment. The issue is further complicated by the Second Life Terms of Service of Service (TOS), which prohibits certain types of speech and is the main reason for the “Disclaimer” page on this blog. Free speech is nowhere absolute, but on the grid, it is a bit tricky.

Free Speech in Caledon, then, is less free than in the United States as a whole. For example, the K.K.K. can burn a cross in town square every holiday season even though nobody much likes it. We can’t ban them just because we don’t like them; to ban the K.K.K., we’d have to ban all celebratory symbols from town square. The Christians couldn’t have their decorated tree. Likewise, the Jews couldn’t have their menorah and the African Americans couldn’t have their Kwanzaa display. To protect everyone’s freedom of expression in town square, we must put up with those who express ideas that the majority of us find loathsome. Personally, I am affiliated with no particular religious tradition, but I still like to see the nice displays. In Caledon, things are different. Both the covenant and the TOS restrict hate speech, so the odious K.K.K. has no presence there. That arrangement is certainly more comfortable and less offensive, but it is also much less free and far less equitable.

To my knowledge, there is no explicit policy regarding in-world journalism. Many in-world newspapers and magazines do exist. I am an avid reader of The Primgraph, for instance. The only requirement that I know of is to make sure that you have the consent of all parties before you quote them. This disclosure policy is explained in more detail here. In the real world, if Joe Shmoe is demonstrably present at the scene of a crime, you can mention that presence in your blog without obtaining his consent. In SL, it seems as though Mr. Shmoe must know that he is being blogged. Otherwise, journalists serve the same function (and in much the same manner) in SL as they do in the real world.

While it seems that, in theory, our Caledonian freedoms are significantly impeded by the covenant and the TOS, I find one difference to trump all of the rest: I am a Caledonian by choice, but my typist is a U.S. citizen by birth. If one feels the restrictions placed on one’s virtual life in Caledon are unfair, one can always seek another estate or carve out a niche on the mainland. If one finds the TOS overly burdensome, them one may jump ship, as it were, and try Blue Mars or any other virtual world. One might even muster the resources and technical skill necessary to invent one’s own virtual world. In real life, immigration laws often prohibit one from leaving one’s country of origin in favor of a new homeland. At the very least, this process is often lengthy and fraught with difficulty. So, perhaps, we Caledonians and denizens of other virtual worlds are even more free here in this aetheric miasma of communication than are our respective typists in the physical realm. We have the ultimate freedom: choice.

Yours truly,

–Miss Palabra Puddlegum–

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