Whose Afraid of Virginia Woolf, uh, I Mean Woodbury, uh, I Mean Linden Labs

There is a lot of concern making the rounds this week in educational institutions working in Second Life. The reason is that Linden Labs closed Woodbury University’s Second Life campus for the second time.

Young, Jeff. Woodbury U. Banned From Second Life, Again. Chronicle of Higher Education, April 21, 2010, 08:57 PM ET. http://chronicle.com/blogPost/Woodbury-U-Banned-From-Second/23352/?sid=at&utm_source=at&utm_medium=en

I knew folks would want to know more about what happened, so I’ve been trying to find out. Linden Labs and Woodbury have both been very close mouthed about it, as they should be. Other people have not been so quiet, and there are extensive conversations around the web in
various locations as well as in the Second Life email lists and forums. Please note, this is ALL RUMORS! The parties in a position to
know are mostly keeping quiet. The ones who are talking are not necessarily reputable reporters. Here is the most cited blogpost reporting specific behaviors and names.

Neva, Prokofy. Happy 140th Birthday, Vladimir Ilyich! Second Thoughts April 21, 2010. http://secondthoughts.typepad.com/second_thoughts/2010/04/happy-140th-birthday-vladimir-ilyich.html

In brief, the short version of what I’ve been able to find out is like this.

1) Woodbury was originally closed down for not managing griefing behaviors on the part of their community. When they were denied access
as an educational institution they went to commercial land providers in Second Life and rented new space at full commercial costs. This
second virtual campus was closed for identical reasons to the first time.

2) The SL Justice League is being accused of lobbying to have Woodbury closed as a chronic source of griefing problems. The Justice League is known in SL as a volunteer organization providing security for high profile events. I don’t have enough information to comment, and have no information to confirm any of these stories on either side.

3) Reports of behaviors by Woodbury students include attacks on minorities, specific individuals and locations, adult (sexually explicit) content in inappropriate locations, and real life stalking as a followup to inworld griefing. (More info below.)

4) Defense of the Woodbury students behaviors is being given as “edgy performance art”. Again, this is coming from community members, not either Woodbury or Linden.

I’ve attended many high-profile but low budget functions in SL for which the Justice League provided security. Examples include the Obama Health Care public forums which were held in Second Life and the grand opening of Kennesaw University when they had that totally rockin’ Japanese band. When I coordinated the National Educational Technology Plan (NETP) Public Forum event at ISTE for Obama’s advisors, I requested their assistance, which they graciously provided at no cost. There are other security firms which provide security for money, but I haven’t worked with any of them. Yes, they actually show up looking like Superheroes – Superman, Green Lantern, and Wonderwoman are all in evidence, just for starters.

For the NETP event, Kalel met with me twice beforehand, and another Justice League member followed up the day before and day of the event. We discussed the number and layout of the sims involved in the event, the appropriate configuration of sim settings, where JL staff should be posted, how to arrange local support contacts for them in each of the sims, permissions and groups for sim management — all the expected matters. They were very professional and very helpful. They showed up early, and observed participants as they arrived. We did have a couple small problems, including one disruptive person who arrived late. The only boggle I heard of was that my SL partner was banned from one sim because he was going thru a phase of wearing this clever device that played loud Star Trek transporter noises whenever you teleported. Personally, I was really grateful that this finally persuaded him to remove it. They were really cooperative about removing the ban right away, they just identified arriving with loud noises as potentially disruptive (and I agree).

Beyond observing the Justice League security support for educators and healthcare in SL, I have no experience with their broader activities. I have heard a couple places that the problematic group at Woodbury was associated with problems at New Citizens Inc, a group upon which I depend. This seems to be the most prominent piece on that topic.

Neva, Prokofy. On Carl Metropolitan’s Resignation and on The Bigger Picture. Second Thoughts August 29, 2009. http://secondthoughts.typepad.com/second_thoughts/2009/08/on-carl-metropolitans-resignation-and-on-the-bigger-picture.html

I haven’t read the whole piece (it is rather long), but the sections I glanced at appeared to present a fairly balanced view of the Woodbury group, why their actions were perceived as griefing, and what policies and choices and events were creating the problems. Yesterday Rolig recommended skimming the SL forums on this topic. I did so. The infringements mentioned there (in a truly chaotic discussion) seemed to focus on:
– sexually explicit content placed in PG locations;
– sexually explicit content being promoted in student areas on the
Woodbury sim;
– griefer attacks on Prokofy Neva and his SL real estate tenants;
– real life stalking associated with SL griefer attacks;
– aggressive and targeted griefing of minority populations, notably furries;
– griefer attacks on newbie organizations and events such as NCI.

The justification given for these actions seems to be “performance art” and/or a research project on societal norms and adherence, like the Stanford Prison Experiment. If the latter, I would have thought the experiment could have successfully concluded the first time Woodbury was closed for lack of adherence to Terms of Service and infringements of the general standards of behavior in SL. That would have told me as a researcher that the behaviors were not acceptable to the broader community, and would have formed a natural termination point for data collection on the project.

The discussions also described some perfectly normal educational activities going on via Woodbury’s campus. The impression was that there was a small group of students who were responsible for most of the trouble, OR that there was a group of troublemakers who consistently wore Woodbury badges when causing trouble in other locations. I would assume that the abuse reports would have documented the difference. I assume that Woodbury would have made their student badges no-trans, but it is always possible that someone simply created something that looked like Woodbury badges. The whole “badge” part of the discussion seems a bit confusing to me.

Please note, all of the information available about this on the public web is either third-party or biased or both. Typically we find SL articles in the popular press under-researched and over-reported, why would we assume this article was anything else?

The main concern seems to me to be whether LL is likely to shut down other virtual campuses. The discussions of this relative to Woodbury seem to focus on:
– good initial and ongoing guidance being provided to students brought into SL for education;
– good oversight being provided for student content in SL educational spaces;
– clear community standards being defined for educational communities in SL, and these standards being enforced;
– good communication practices between the educational institution and Linden Labs, with a good working relationship with the rest of the educational community.

In short, what I am hearing is that this could have been prevented by responsible management of students and student spaces.

Whether or not any of our educational institutions are experiencing issues, these seem like good community practice for educational work in virtual worlds with a broader community than a locked private OpenSim space. Those of us on the SLED list seem to usually do all these things, and to communicate with each other in a well intentioned and good-spirited way about problems and solutions. That seems to be the most important factor – to “play nice with others”.

Please note, I have no affiliation or personal connection with either Woodbury, Linden Labs (although I remain disappointed and concerned about Pathfinder’s departure) or any of the people mentioned in this sad situation other than the aforementioned experience with the Justice League.

I will now go duck and hide. 🙂


5 responses to “Whose Afraid of Virginia Woolf, uh, I Mean Woodbury, uh, I Mean Linden Labs

  1. This just in from AJ on the same topic. This is about the credibility of the Chronicle’s article. http://sorryafk.wordpress.com/2010/04/23/reporting-or-readers-which-matters-more-to-jeff-young/


  2. The claim that there was something to be gained in the field of academic research by allowing a student group to operate in a manner which harassed local and impeded local businesses in the absense of any clearly stated objective or research project is a cynical abuse of academic freedom. There is a way to go about the academic research of deviant and disrutive behavior, and it begins with carefully considered rules of engagement which are considered appropriate and ethical. There’ may be something to be learned, but if that objective is not in the open for the academic community to question freely, then it is unlikely to be defended on those grounds. The Reynard project provides an interesting contrast – its objective is public, clearly stated, and an one which makes some uncomfortable and one which some find objectionable. Their rules of engagement are also clearly stated, and among them is one which Woodbury might take note of – remain compliant with the tos and the law.

    It’s ironic that professor Clift would accuse linden of harming the Woodbury brand. Whether Woodbury realizes it or not, it is Clift who has done more to malign the academic rigor one might expect from the faculty at Woodbury than Linden could ever have done. It would be easy to believe Clift was duped by his clever student leaders, save for the zeal he has brought to the fight on the topic of academic freedom. That he has done so in the absence of a sanity check about whether student activities were in alignment with what the actual Woodbury University would consider to be ethical academic pursuits achieves malighnment he tries to foist on the lab.

    What Clift fails to realize is this is good griefing -make use of every available resource to achieve the objective – Clift was a perfect mark in that he loves a good fight more than he loves a good reputation. That is so perfectly aligned to the ideology of the griefers he provided cover for, it’s uncanny. Where he did not do right by Woodbury however was in his failure to ensure that if his students were to be protected by the shield of the University’s academic mission, that their activities aligned with a stated objective and were ethical.

    Even prolonged periods of daylight drunkenness and masturbating six times a day has academic value if the means of learning from it are as carefully managed as the activity itself..,


  3. Vakesh Ishtari

    Lovely article, i must say having been rather close to a few sources made this and the rest of the many blog posts found on the web have a definate lulz factor. Yes Woodbury was griefing, yes they had a Linden on their team. So did JLU, no. There was more then just griefing happening due to the fact one of the proud members of the Wrong Hands and Woodbury group was also working on a third party viewer that… rightly so got declined as it was deemed. *unsafe* by Linden Labs and he himself lost his position with LL.. =/ Lots of emo tears have been shed. Ownage just continues.


  4. Pingback: Linden Lab’s Woodbury University Cleanup Effort Continues « KRYPTON RADIO

  5. Pingback: Woodbury University Banned From Second Life (Again) | KRYPTON RADIO

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