Science & Technology

Is Second Life's Libertarian Experiment Over?


The virtual world Second Life announced yesterday that certain kinds of billboards will be restricted–those deemed to be "harassing behavior or visual spam." Second Life blogger New World Notes charts the rise and fall of virtual world libertarianism: "Philip Linden has memorably said he's building "a country" in Second Life. That country is beginning to look less like Amsterdam or Las Vegas, and more like Denmark or Singapore."

New World Notes chronicles the world's "experiment with laissez faire society" thusly:

in 2005, when a landowner began peppering the world with ugly billboard towers, Residents protested. However, the Lindens generally refused to intercede. "It's not for us to decide the relative merit of construction in Second Life," Community Manager Daniel Linden told me then. That hands-off stance has apparently changed. The same could be said of other libertarian principles, like legalized gambling, unregulated banking, and permissible sexual extremes.

In 2006, for example, Philip Linden refused to intercede against Ginko, the SL bank with a high rate of return, which many Residents accused of being a Ponzi scheme. That same year, in response to Residents protests against age play (i.e. simulated avatar-based pedophilia), Robin Linden said it would be forbidden "[i]f this activity were in public areas"– implying that it was still permissible in private. Casinos and other gambling institutions, of course, were rampant over the land.

But then the regulations started kicking in:

The reversals started last year, continuing into this one. Age play and other vaguely defined "broadly offensive" behavior was universally forbidden in May 2007. Gambling was prohibited in July 2007. Unregulated banks were banned this January. This February's prohibition against "ad farms" was preceded by the debut of a Linden Department of Public Works, also overseen by Jack Linden, "all about improving the experience for residents living on or visiting the Linden mainland." Of course, some of these decisions were at least partly motivated by concern over real world laws, but the pattern is still hard to miss. The Lindens are restructuring the mainland into a communitarian society it once was in 2003. Expect more prohibitions to go into effect soon, also aimed at curbing other libertarian externalities– bot farms, for example, and camping chairs.

Ah well, at least Michael Gerson will be happy.