A few years ago we incredulously witnessed the news of a SL romance ending in real life stalking, attempt kidnapping and crime of virtual passion. Cases like this are increasingly recurrent.
In Second Life stalkers see their art made easier with more ways to torment people and with more amenities to hide behind the screen, a supposedly safe and consequence-free place to impetuously pour out their frustrations on others, therefore, exacerbating their actions.
Stalking is a subject that is near and dear to my heart and to the hearts of many residents. Being stalked can be paralyzingly frightening and have devastating consequences, generating feelings of insecurity, fear and anxiety. We open our doors to strangers and make virtual friends without really knowing what to expect from them. Your stalker can be your number one fan now and your worst enemy tomorrow.
Personal vendettas, emotional disturbances, among others result in obsessive and abusive behaviors. Stalkers will try to gain control over you by terrorizing you with repeated contact even when there is an explicit rejection, threatening you, following your steps non-stop and transforming people’s lives into a living hell. The question that demands an answer is: is our Real Life safe from SL stalkers?
We spoke with Hal Jordan (greenlantern.excelsior), an expert in virtual security and Head of the Green Lantern, a neighborhood watch in Second Life.
SLE: Hal, first of all I would like to thank you for agreeing with the interview. I would like to ask you if there are first signs that indicate that we may be dealing with a stalker? Is there a pattern?
Hal Jordan (greenlantern.excelsior): The Second Life wiki article on stalkers defines a stalker as "someone who will just not leave you alone, no matter how much you try to tell them that their attentions are not welcome." The Wired Safety organization says that cyber stalking "involves spying, tracking and targeting our online activities, communications and friends." Stalkers can be motivated by "revenge, jealousy, righteousness, bigotry, fear, anger, or to get the attention of the target or others." Or sometimes there's no motive at all, just a deranged person who happened to notice you at the wrong time. Some other warning signs are lurking around your location, repeated unwanted messages, false accusations to try to damage your reputation, trying to gather information from your friends and family, encouraging others to harass you, claiming to be harassed by you, sending inappropriate gifts to you, and arranging to meet you.
SLE: There is much speculation about the existence of illegal tools to spy on other residents and their alts to terrorize them with unexpected visits, with messages or other improper actions that do not comply with the TOS. Is this a reality?
Hal Jordan (greenlantern.excelsior): I have some combat HUDs that I used for training people in the past, and one of them has a chat spy device that will remotely relay local chat, in violation of the SL Terms of Service. But I am not an expert on illegal spy tools in SL, so that's about all I know of spying.
SLE: What can people do to protect themselves when being the target of a stalker or even to avoid such situations?
Hal Jordan (greenlantern.excelsior): The Second Life wiki has some excellent advice about stalking. If you are being stalked, Linden Lab wants to see Abuse Reports from you, including chat logs and a list of other specifics. If the abuse is ongoing, they want you to tell them that. You and your friends should mute (block) the offender and its alts, and do not respond to any messages from them. Ban the stalker from your land. If they are following you around in places where you can't ban them, write an Abuse Report and go elsewhere. There is no specific Abuse Report category for stalking, so I recommend selecting the "Other" category and including the word "Stalking" in the "Summary" block on the form at http://wiki.secondlife.com/wiki/Stalkers. Wired Safety has more good information on how to respond to cyber stalkers. You should tell the person at least once not to make contact with you again (from then on, the stalker's attentions are "unwanted"). When you realize that the issue has become serious or alarming, start saving communications and keeping logs for evidence. And the most important advice of all is that "if there is a hint of physical violence, public postings designed to point people to the victim's real life location or contact information, or threats of any kind, it's essential that law enforcement is called right away." https://www.wiredsafety.org/subjects/cyberbullying.php
SLE: The SL Forums threads are filled with complaints and claims that Linden Lab does not take any action. I personally do not believe that, yet I think that they fail to give feedback to residents on their backstage work. Do you have knowledge of what does Linden lab do to protect residents from these situations?
Hal Jordan (greenlantern.excelsior): I used to believe the same thing, but after looking at the problem from a historical standpoint, my opinion is that Linden Lab does the best they can with the resources they have available. Several years ago, the LL Governance and Response Team (GTeam) responded to Abuse Reports. The Resident Experience Support Inworld (RESI) team replaced the GTeam in mid-2009. Another group of what I believe to be LL contractors (their SL last names were not "Linden") replaced the RESI team later. And finally, that last group stopped responding to ARs. At each step in the process, there were fewer people available to take care of abuse in Second Life. But I believe that trend is reversing now. We wrote ARs on some blatant assault by a bold griefer who had been causing problems in the Barbarossa sim for months. Less than an hour after we submitted the reports, Governance7 Linden arrived on the scene, looked at the griefing for a short time, and then ended it by banning all three of the griefers. Those griefers and several of their alts can no longer be found in search. We have seen Governance3, 6 and 7 Linden active in responding to ARs recently, sometimes within 15 minutes of AR submission (Governance2 through 8 Linden are names that can be found in search). The key to getting a response appears to be several ARs from several residents submitted in a short time period. As for feedback about their backstage work, the GTeam used to hold weekly Office Hours meetings in the Kremer sim. Those were always entertaining and informative. Their meeting area remained in Kremer for a long time before the sim was finally reformatted. There is another wonderful artifact from the GTeam era that still exists on the grid, created by one of the GTeam members who is no longer a Linden Lab employee. I hope that someday it will be used again for those great Office Hours meetings.
SLE: What is The Green Lanterns' role in the security of Second Life residents? Could you tell us about The Green Lanterns?
Hal Jordan (greenlantern.excelsior): The Green Lanterns can be described in basic terms as a Neighborhood Watch in Second Life. We dress as members of the Green Lantern Corps from the comics, and patrol the grid looking for those in need of help. We assist new residents in making the transition from Real Life into Second Life. We submit Abuse Reports to Linden Lab when griefers attack. We educate landowners about security arrangements. We provide security patrols for Second Life events. We adhere to several standard ethical principles which are described on our blog at http://thegreenlanterns.wordpress.com/about/. We only have three standard rules: 1) No Drama; 2) Have Fun; 3) Don't be Evil. The group has 83 members, and we are actively recruiting new members who enjoy helping others and removing griefers from the grid through the use of timely and accurate Abuse Reports.
SLE: Could you share with us about a difficult stalking situation that you had to deal with and that could be eye opening to other residents?
Hal Jordan (greenlantern.excelsior): I have never dealt with a truly malicious stalking situation in Second Life, but I was asked to help with a situation that was difficult to deal with. A lady asked me for help in regard to another lady who was writing malicious things in her profile. Supposedly the other person changed her profile frequently to provide different verbal attacks. I looked at her enemy's profile, and one of the picks did contain some vague criticism of an unspecified resident. The lady told me that it was aimed at her, but I didn't see anything serious enough to report as harassment. I became suspicious and looked that the lady's profile. One of her profile picks also had some criticism directed at an unnamed resident. They had muted each other, but they were having a war of words in their profiles, and she was trying to use me as a weapon against her enemy! I advised her to remove the offending pick and stop reading the other lady's profile.
SLE: Is there any other advice or anything else that you would like to add?
Hal Jordan (greenlantern.excelsior): Some of the complaints of stalking that I've heard in Second Life are merely verbal arguments between two people who won't back down, where each of them is trying to get the other to leave a favorite hangout location. But please, let's not trivialize the issue like that. Real, serious, obsessive stalking is not something to be taken lightly. It can disrupt your life, endanger your loved ones, and prove to be fatal in the worst situations. If you are being stalked, don't cower under the blankets, hoping it will go away. Fight back! Use all of the Linden Lab and (if necessary) real life law enforcement resources that you need to end the problem before it becomes dangerous.
SLE: Thank you so much Hal for your very helpful words and for agreeing with the interview.