Monday, July 25, 2011

Kids on the Grid

Written 25 July, 2011

Kids on the Grid

After Linden Lab closed the Teen Grid earlier this year, teens 15, 16, and 17 years of age were allowed on Second Life's main grid's PG sims, and 13- and 14-year-olds were allowed on the grid is select regions.

A lot of older (in terms of time in world), residents predicted chaos and an influx of children even younger than thirteen. I didn't think that likely, but now I think I was wrong.

Admittedly one avatar's experience is subjective and might not be typical, but I know I've been coming across a lot of avatars lately who say in chat they are 13 or 14 years old and whose behavior suggest that's true. Lately I've been filing get-this-kid-off-the-grid abuse reports on an almost daily basis-- this because I've been spending a lot of time at infohubs, where new avatars come into world.

Over time I've learned to tell the approximate age the people behind avatars by the way they behave. It's not fail-safe, but I'm usually spot-on accurate.

Today at the Hyannisport infohub I spotted an avatar who I was sure was very young. How did I know? He couldn't stay still. He was the very personification of Attention Deficit Hyperactive Disorder. His attention span seemed to be about five seconds.

Then of all the people on the sim, he latched onto me. He offered me friendship three times. I told him it was customary in Second Life to become friends only with people one knows, and he kept sending me blue menus.

Then he started typing. It took him several minutes to chat "hi cyeyenne" and two more to ask him to fly with him. I told him I was happy standing where I was and of course he kept trying to get me to fly. At some point he accidentally opened his mic and I could hear a young child talking to someone in the room.

When I asked him how old he was, he said, in chat, "Seven," and I believed him. I told him Second Life was no place for young teens and even less a place for children and told him he should leave and not come back until he was much older. Then I asked if he would bring his mom to the screen. He walked away.

Several minutes later he walked back up and typed "Hi. This is Alvin's sister."

I asked her how old she was. Twenty, she said.

The typing was much faster and the language usage more sophisticated, so my best guess was it was actually his sister and not Alvin trying to fool me. I told her of the dangers of Second Life and the rules which forbid those under 13 from being on the grid, and urged her to delete his account. Alvin's avatar disappeared. Logoff.

I hoped that would do it, but five minutes later Alvin reappeared. Again, his sister was the typist. Alvin was sitting on his bed crying, she said, and it was my fault.

I asked her to tell her mother what I had said. She said her mother had no problem with Alvin being in Second Life-- which might or might not have been true. I said if that was true it was astonishingly poor parenting behavior. I once again urged her to delete the account and told her I was muting and derendering Alvin and would no longer hear what he or she typed or said. And I did.

By that time I and several other residents had filed abuse reports so the Lindens would be made aware of Alvin's age. So had at least one other resident.

Just then a resident long enough to have a real last name came over and told me I should have minded my own business. Alvin was just annoying me, he said.

No, I said. I wasn't annoyed; I was concerned. He scoffed.

I said, "Well, I don't want to get into a conversation about this with you. I'll follow my conscience and you can follow yours."

But of course he wouldn't let it go. He said kids were fine on the grid, they would just play and would never engage in sexual behavior, they needed no supervision, it was just a game.

I told him he was using the same language a sexual predator would use, and asked him to show me his NAMBLA card. You should have seen him backpedal.

A few hours later I copied Alvin's name from the chat log and pasted it into search, and he didn't come up-- meaning his account had been zapped by the Lindens. Of course, Alvin will probably be back tomorrow, using another account, but I did the proper thing. As an adult, I took the steps I thought necessary to protect a child.

And I urge my readers to do the same.

1 comment:

Melissa Yeuxdoux said...

Good heavens. This past Saturday I met someone who had her heart set on a particular outfit, but wanted to know how to get the money to buy it. I explained that you could either buy L$ or work for it--but then it turned out she didn't have information on file that would let her do that. Why not, I asked? "My parents won't let me."

Older teens are now on the main grid, but... upon reflection, and especially after reading of your experience, I should have pressed her about her age.