Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Wed. Sec, A Rape in Cyberspace

When internet users are granted anonymity, consequences go out the window. The worst that could happen to a delinquent user is an IP ban. What results is that the people who care, the ones who treasure their spot in the virtual world, are the very ones who have everything to lose from a ban. They are not likely to act up both because they want to maintain a good image, and because they don't want to get booted. The ones who don't care, conversely, don't really lose anything. They can mess around, have their fun, and if they piss off too many other users, they'll be exiled. But they're not really losing anything, because there was no personal attachment to the virtual world to begin with.

This is how it has been for as long as I can remember. In RL, just as in VR, a user can harass another and get out of hand. What makes RL significantly different is the physical presence. An offending person who gets our of hand risks being physically assaulted, arrested, or ostracized. In short, there are repercussions that can ruin the rest of the offender's life. However, online there's not really anything the defendant can do to retaliate. Log off, I guess. Report inappropriate usage. Still, the worst that can happen to the defendant is banishment. Today the laws may be different in extreme cases, I'm not totally sure. However, I don't think that really applies to this paper.

I think what I'm trying to get at is the significance of physical presence. In RL, because both parties are actually there, a very offended person could throw a punch or call for help as a retaliation. However, online, even though there is less opportunity to retaliate effectively, the assault generally seems less personal (this is assuming neither party knows the other in RL). That means that, for me anyway, it is harder to be truly offended. If some other user were to somehow virtually sexually assault me, it would probably take an awful lot before I would actually feel hurt. Yet in RL, because of the presence of the offending party, it is clear that they can see, touch, smell, and otherwise know me. My race, gender, looks, and any observable features or behaviors are readily available as targets of ridicule. If someone makes an insult using this information, I personalize the insult and feel hurt. If someone makes a jab online, not really knowing anything about me other that what I may have posted, how can I possibly be as offended? They don't really know me, so what they say about me is unfounded.

This isn't the same as offending a group of people. I feel that races, sexualities, and other groups are much easier to offend online. No one needs to know me personally to insult the people who are like me. And if they insult the people in my demographic, I can internalize that insult and feel hurt. I think one could argue that the incident in LambdaMOO was an assault on women in general. If that's the case, that would explain why the victims felt so personally offended.

1 comment:

Ellen Loudermilk said...

In terms of consequences for actions VR versus RL, the internet plays an interesting role in intersecting the two.

Compare a VR like Second Life to a social networking dating site. A user's intention of using these two worlds should be very different. In second life, a completely immersive VR, users know that there will be no future of a physical meeting, outside of the VR. This lack of accountability a user has for their actions may drive them to experiment with personalities, emotions, and actions that they would not participate in within real life.

A dating site, then, allows users to portray themselves in positive light but holds them accountable for their actions. The descriptions, language, and conversations they have online will potentially one day turn into a face-to-face meeting. (Note, I also think it is an interesting fact that these online dating sites are divided into free and costly sites. The sites you pay for tend to have more "real" members whereas the free ones are viewed as riskier. So do free online dating sites function as a midpoint between the two worlds?)

Which world places the user in a more vulnerable position? One where you can be anyone you want to be, where you can confidently be someone without ever expecting your two lives to intersect, or the dating sites which lead to real life interactions?