Thursday, March 11, 2010

S.03 Internet Law

I found Dibbell’s “A Rape in Cyberspace” both extremely intriguing and unsettling. What is crime in cyberspace? Despite government policing of cyberspace, the (ostensibly) democratic nature of the internet nevertheless allows it to be a space much less legislated than other forms of media. While I am surfing the internet I am bombarded by pop-ups and sidebar advertisements proclaiming things like, “You are the 1000th visitor! Click here to claim your prize!” While such sham advertisements would probably not be tolerated on TV, the threshold of what is acceptable versus what merits public outcry or intervention seems to be much higher online. When can such internet spam be considered fraud?

Also, what distinguishes the rape in LambdaMOO from cyber-bullying, which often carries consequences in the real world ( Dibbell writes, “He had committed a MOO crime, and his punishment, if any, would be meted out via the MOO”(22). Perhaps one's agreement to participate in cyberspace (and in particular, signing up for LambdaMOO) implies a certain type of contract in which the player is bound to a set of rules. However, as the internet becomes more and more ubiquitous, it becomes rather difficult for people to choose to abstain from it—to what extent can people be held responsible for their actions in a system they have never recognized?

I think it is so very odd how justice in the real world and in cyberspace interact. The following passage touches upon the strange discrepancy which exists between the two spaces:

Where virtual reality and its conventions would have us believe that exu and Moondreamer were brutally raped in their own living room, here was the victim exu scolding Mr. Bungle for a breach of “civility”. Where real life, on the other hand, insists the incident was only an episode in a free-form version of Dungeons and Dragons, confined to the realm of the symbolic and at no point threatening any player’s life, limb or material well-being, here now was the player exu issuing aggrieved and heartfelt calls for Mr. Bundle’s dismemberment. Ludicrously excessive by RL’s lights, woefully understated by VR’s, the tone of exu’s response made sense only in the buzzing, dissonant gap between them”(16).

In this case, Mr.Bungle’s punishment was a symbolic one. His banishment from LambdaMOO could not be permanently enforced, and yet the members of LambdaMOO accepted this punishment as just. I am also curious about how this might relate to the idea of a disciplinary or a control society.

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