In Second Life, a Virtual Darfur is Patrolled by a Virtual Green Lantern Corps

by Chris Borgen

Having grown up on Green Lantern comics (and having one friend quip that she thinks that explains my becoming an international lawyer), I was nonetheless somewhat stunned to come across the following on Wagner James Au’s New World Notes blog, which covers the evolution of Second Life, the online “virtual world”:

Second Life has a Darfur, so it’s sad (though not surprising) that it has its own janjaweed, too.

Activists recently built a virtual world information site on a private island called Better World, to raise awareness of the ongoing ethnic cleansing in Sudan. Called “Camp Darfur”, it features the recreation of a refugee tent city with a tiny campfire, and large display photos of the real thing, where the tents seem to go on for miles.

Shortly after it was unveiled, however, the place was hit by griefers [vandals and hackers]. The first marauder found an exploit in the Camp’s building method, and used that to raze the place to the ground, strewing tents and images of refugees everywhere. According to Zeke Poutine, officer in the “Not on our watch” Darfur activist group, he shouted racial slurs while he trashed it. The Camp was rebuilt, but copycat attacks by others followed.

But if Camp Darfur has its janjaweed, it has its guardians, too. For shortly after the raids began, a Better World visitor who’d learned a lot about Sudan’s genocide from the Camp called a group of his to the island, to offer their protection.

And that’s why Camp Darfur is now under the vigilant eye of the Green Lantern Core [sic — they have chosen to be “core” rather than “corps”], a band of superheroes who patrol Second Life with masks, tights, and magic lamps.

Au interviewed some members of the Green Lanterns as well as the folks who put together the Darfur site.

Zeke Poutine isn’t sure the attacks on their websites and their Second Life site are related, or if they’re politically motivated. “Who knows? Some people just do stuff because they can,” she muses. “’Cause they have issues? ‘Cause they don’t like Africans?”

“It doesn’t sound like they just did it for fun,” Matador observes. “It’s a hate crime.”

When the attacks first began, the Green Lantern Core helped them secure the Camp. Their lead officer Jeff Beckenbauer built a security script that scans the identity of avatars who visit, and showed the Better World owners how to read it. Jeremy patrols the island in the morning, and Matador at other times, as do other Core members.

In the beginning, they tell me, the GLC was founded by Cid Jacobs as a way to show off devices and builds inspired by the Green Lantern comic. From there it evolved into a roleplaying group, with members pretending to “patrol” sectors of Second Life. This began as fun, but lately it’s started to involve monitoring actual violations of Community Standards and Terms of Service– the live and let live rules of conduct that Linden Lab [the company that runs Second Life] has its subscribers agree to, when they get an account.

“It’s unfortunately turned into a lot of watching for CS/TOS violations,” KallfuNahuel Matador acknowledges. “The roleplay aspect kinda fell to the wayside. Certainly it started as a group of fans of a comic book, but it’s grown and growing into something more.”

In this, one sees trend for the future of Second Life– as the world grows ever larger, the sheer population size will make it impossible for Linden staff to meaningfully regulate it. Into this gap will rise neighborhood watch groups and private security forces, acting as the first line of defense while citizens wait for the Lindens to arrive. [Emphases added]

This story is interesting on multiple levels. First, it is another example of how Second Life is used as a means of organizing activism, in this case the work of Darfur activists. (But see this follow-up post concerning “cyberutopianism.”)

The rise of the Second Life Green Lanterns also points out how communities begin to generate similar structures in response to common problems. Here, online vandals/ maurauders are destroying the hard work of the activists, so the Second Life community has organized its own police force—one that uses the symbols of science fiction but enforce very real contractual obligations (the Terms of Service agreements of Second Life users). And yes, I also find it interesting that when virtual Darfur needed help the symbol of choice was not Blue Helmets but Green Lanterns.

And, along those lines, there are also some interesting implications on the “law and literature” side, especially as one blogger put it, concerning science fiction as the literature of the refugee.

I highly recommend reading the rest of Au’s post.

If only the real Darfur had such a simple solution. And, no, I don’t mean the Green Lantern Theory of Geopolitics. (Matthew Yglesias should know better—George Bush is no Hal Jordan. Guy Gardner, maybe.)

Hat Tip: io9

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