“Gender Freedom Day in Digital Worlds” – hooray for diversity!

Extropia Central Nexus

The 25th October 2008 heralds the coming of a new celebration: “Gender Freedom Day in Digital Worlds.”

Gender Freedom Day is the brainchild of Sophrosyne Stenvaag, a digital individual who inhabits digital environments such as Second Life. Stenvaag envisions the Day as a promotion of “freedom of expression of gender identity and sexual preference in digital worlds” – a celebration of all choices of gender identity and sexual preference, and the ability of all the individuals to interact in a civil and respectful manner. Stenvaag is disappointed and horrified by the cultures in digital environments – the hatred of, hate crimes surrounding, and general uncivil and unnecessary expression of biases surrounding gender and sexuality difference of expression.

"That's so gay?"

The hub of the Day’s activity will be at Extropia, Stenvaag’s paradise of difference in self-expression in Second Life. However, Stenvaag hopes to spread the word of the day far and wide, and to have events engaged in throughout Second Life predominantly. Individuals from other digital environments, and even those in the atomic world, for those who have the resources to do so, are welcome to join in with the fun and festivities. As of a couple of days ago, event organisation was in full swing, with several speakers with academic backgrounds giving their commitments to makes presentations, DJs having been approached to provide entertainment throughout the fundraising party (running 2pm to 10pm SLT on the Day), and discussions with a welter of other communities and organisations progressing apace. Individuals wanting to inject their own brand of creativity, make a presentation, or generally volunteer to help out are most welcome to do so: you will want to liaise with Sophrosyne Stenvaag in Second Life.


The fundraiser will be collecting money on behalf of organisations who promote the ideals of the Day. The exact organisations will be determined before the money is dispensed. Stenvaag is currently open to nominations for existing organisations and start-ups who could benefit from the money. Stenvaag herself is starting the kitty at L$125,000.

The most heinous crime.

“Walk into one of the capital cities in World Of Warcraft, or the infamous “Barrens Chat,” night or day, and you’re likely to hear the foulest expressions of homophobia, gynophobia, racism and anti-Semitism. Of those, the most prevalent seems to be homophobia: “gay” and “fag” are stand-ins for anything bad, and used with abandon, despite their being in technical violation of the Terms of Service. The culture permits it.”

In a digital setting, this kind of attack via speech, in which individuals are treated as though their expression of self is invalid, in which individuals are treated as objects or “things”, and other such attacks upon the self, is more heinous than any other kind. In the atomic world, far worse things can happen to you, of course, but for those of us who live in a digital world, we have a responsibility “to not sit silent and permit a culture of hatred to flourish” in our homes.

“Attacking people for presenting their gender in the way that suits them is not okay.”

The digital advantage.

There are other reasons for holding a Day like this in a digital world, too.

  • Because the denizens of digital worlds represent a subset of the individuals represented in the atomic world. Not only does that mean that there is a smaller sample of people amongst which to spread the word, but also that folks from digital places can take the word back with them to the atomic world and make a difference there too.
  • Fewer resources are required, compared with similar efforts in the atomic world. One side effect of this is that more money can be donated to the organizations, instead of being spent only on the celebration.
  • A more diverse lot of people are recognised and represented. Not only are the common (gay, lesbian, transgender, etc) expressions of gender and sexuality able to be represented, but also those that have emerged through the existence of digital environments.

All are welcome.

Stenvaag wants everyone, of all gender and sexual persuasions, to be welcome at Gender Freedom Day, even though she is aware that this will not be a globally popular response:

“Speaking for myself, I support the freedom of expression of … any other group: as long as they refrain from hostile expression against those who differ with them, consenting members of their community should have the right to their own practices.”

Linden Lab’s CEO to testify before Congress

At 9.30am on the 1st April US Eastern Time, Linden Lab CEO Philip Rosedale will testify before the US Congress. I don’t have any further details at this stage aside from determining that it’s the House Committee on Energy and Commerce. More specifically it’s the Subcommittee on Telecommunications and the Internet Hearing. The topic of the hearing is ‘Online Virtual Worlds: Applications and Avatars in a User-Generated Medium’

If you’re super keen you can view the live webcast. It’s likely to be a fairly mundane event although with any political process there’s the potential for fireworks. Ageplay, gambling and financial services are obvious areas but we’ll have to wait and see how wide the focus becomes.

Update: a text summary of the hearing can be found here on Virtually Blind.


The Mike Huckabee Center for the Liberation and Housing of Spermatazoan-Americans

We reported recently on some excellent political satire occurring in Second Life focused on Hilary Clinton. Republican Mike Huckabee gets his turn with the opening of the “The Mike Huckabee Center for the Liberation and Housing of Spermatazoan-Americans”.


I was a bit slow in realising what the Huckabee Center was about – it was only when I saw this area that I realised:


Built by “Gen.JC Christian”, his blog gives a pictorial tour and an explanation of the build.

The growing attention on the US Presidential Election is only going to ensure that virtual world satire goes from strength to strength. Once each party has their candidate I’m expecting some even more cutting 3D commentary.

Check it out in-world

Does Second Life need a Republic?

The Metaverse Republic is a new site that states its purpose clearly:

The Metaverse Republic, currently work in progress, will be a legal system for Second Life, with real powers of enforcement originating in user-created tools, and a democratic parliament.

There are many disputes and potential disputes in Second Life that could benefit from formal resolution: disputes about broken agreements, land use, alleged griefing, extortion, etc. The Metaverse Republic aims to provide an effective and fair system for resolving such disputes.

That’s one hell of a brief and it’s not an initiative likely to receive widespread support for two reason. First, there’ll be automatic scepticism toward one model of goverment put forward by one group. Secondly, apathy rules – a resounding majority of people in the real world find politics a boring, meaningless pastime with no direct relevance to their daily lives. This is unlikely to be any different in the virtual world context – our own reader survey conducted last year showed just that, a real lack of interest in the politics stories we run.

That said, such an experiment doesn’t deserve outright condemnation – at the very least it should be considered a useful experiment.

The Virtually Blind blog has an interesting discussion underway on the whole concept. What do you think – does Second Life need a government?

Political satire at a whole new level

With ten months still to go until the US Presidential election, Second Life is definitely hotting up as a platform for campaigning. As you’d expect, where there’s political activity there are satirists waiting in the wings to lighten the load for those of use bombarded by the whole election process. Christophe Hugo is one such person.


When I arrived at his faux WhiteHouse he was sitting there in his Hilary Clinton avatar. I approached Christophe and he immediately enveloped me in a cage, demanding I wouldn’t be let go until I voted for Hilary. Here’s the same fate befalling another visitor:


He was too busy for an extensive interview but I did manage to ask whether Christophe’s efforts were coming from a particular political ideology. His response: “I am a French Marxist (of the Groucho Marx movement)”.

That sums it up really -if you enjoy political humour with a dash of slapstick then this is an area you may want to visit. There’s even a Barack Obama / Hilary Clinton boxing ring where it’s obvious who lost out:


And finally, there’s the Whitehouse itself – it’s not the best replica I’ve seen but it fits the overall presence well:


Thanks to New World Notes for the heads-up.

Check it out in-world

US Presidential politics comes to World of Warcraft

Gamepolitics.com has covered a march undertaken by 200 or so avatars in World of Warcraft to support US Presidential election candidate Ron Paul, who’s on the Republican side of the fence.


Second Life is a regular venue for political discourse but it’s fair to say World of Warcraft isn’t a natural fit as there’s no ability to create individual content to augment political activism. That hasn’t stopped people from making their views clear via this march and it’ll be fascinating to see if there’s growth of such events in WoW in the lead up to November’s elections. What’s stopping some PvP events occurring along political lines? Election campaigns can be brutal on both the combatants and the electorate so this would be an obvious next step.

A new government’s genesis viewed from Second Life

ABC Island played host to an election night party, with lots of chat about unfolding events in the real world. The ‘Australians’ group in SL was also buzzing with a running commentary.


It’d be an understatement to say those gathered on ABC island and the group chat were pro-Kevin Rudd:


Numerous comments were expressed in regard to the ALP’s broadband policy and its impacts on the SL experience. There was plain old partying.


As one party-goer said, “I just wanted to be with some Aussies at this historical moment”. There’s been no involvement by Australian political parties in Second Life to date – my prediction is that by next election there’ll be a marked presence by at least one party in the virtual world sphere.

F.I.R.E. – Second Life’s first native political party?

Last week I noticed a press release from Second Life political party, F.I.R.E. (it stands for Freedom, Improvement, Respect and Enjoyment). They’ve surveyed SL residents on their perceptions and clim to have a future agenda on a number of issues (see full press release below).

There’s understandably some scepticism and confusion around F.I.R.E.’s aims, particularly in an environment with no governmental structures, but at the very least it will provide an alternative to the RL politicians setting up presences without significant engagement with the SL community.


As far as F.I.R.E. being the first political party, I’m aware there have been many lobby groups and even some sim-based ‘governments’, but I’d still argue this is the first SL-wide formal party. It may be perceived by some as a loopy party for its insistence on not adopting a set ideology, but a party it still is. What are your thoughts – can you see a grass-roots political party with a very broad ideology working in SL?

The full press release:

“October 31, 2007. SL POLITICS ON F.I.R.E. Recent studies conducted by Second Life’s first political party – F.I.R.E. – reveal that SL is lacking in the areas of freedom and respect. On the plus side, research also indicates that SL is improving fast enough and that there is a sufficient amount of ‘fun’ here in the virtual world.

Recent studies conducted by Second Life’s first political party – F.I.R.E. – reveal that SL is lacking in the areas of freedom and respect. On the plus side, research also indicates that SL is improving fast enough and that there is a sufficient amount of ‘fun’ here in the virtual world.

F.I.R.E. believes that sacraficing “freedom & respect” in favor of “improvement & enjoyment” will not benefit SL and needs to be halted immediately. F.I.R.E. represents virtual interests. F.I.R.E. is an independent SL-based political party for the promotion and protection of Freedom, Improvement, Respect & Enjoyment. Since early May 2007 F.I.R.E. has been getting organized. We are currently developing the party platform. On the agenda for the coming months are issues such as “cyberwar draft”, “powershifts”, “100 dollar laptops” and “squatting rights in SL”.

More on the research F.I.R.E. conducted.

The Board asked the members of F.I.R.E. about their thoughts pertaining to the four basic areas of Freedom, Improvement, Respect and Enjoyment in SL. Here are the results:
49% of the members of FIRE say that there is enough Freedom in SL.*
67% of the members of FIRE say that there is enough Improvement in SL.**
41% of the members of FIRE say that there is enough Respect in SL.***
84% of the members of FIRE say that there is enough Enjoyment in SL.****

* Note on Freedom: High costs of SLiving and the prohibition of gambling are seen as the main problems with freedom.
** Note on Improvement: Most people named themselves and others as the main providers of improvement. Linden Lab came in at second.
*** Note on Respect: Almost everyone named ‘griefing’ as the sign of disrespect. ‘Rascism/fascism’ was the second most mentioned. Some stated that “There is as much respect in SL as in RL.”
**** Note on Enjoyment: To reiterate; most people named themselves and those around them as the main providers. Cost were mentioned as a problem: “How could I ever afford to play on a descent 18-holes golf course?.”

This survey will be repeated in 2008.

Past statements of F.I.R.E.

Gambling should not have been banned. If things were really getting out of hand, then gambling should have been brought under control and not simply banned. Banning is a sign of weakness and benefits nobody. Under certain improved conditions gambling should once again be enjoyed legally.
* VAT:
The communication concerning the VAT for EU citizens has been handled poorly to say the least. The information provided is lacking in both quality and quantity. The tone in which this message is delivered is horrible. The short notice before the implementation of this measure is ridiculous. Most importantly, it is unjust to spring this VAT measure on EU citizens and it will simply amount to a substantial increase in SL prices. LL knew or should have known VAT was and is to be paid. EU citizens have rightfully trusted LL to take care of their legal obligations surrounding VAT from the start and they should pay this tax out of money that they have already acquired.”

Check out F.I.R.E. in-world

Update: SLNN have an interview with Datus Clary.

The 2007 Federal Election a non-entity for Second Life

In June this year, I wrote a piece for Crikey.com.au on the lack of interest by Australian political parties in Second Life as a campaigning platform. I even contacted the offices of the Minister and Shadow Minister for Communications asking them for their thoughts on Second Life – with absolutely no response.

Now that the 2007 Federal Election is underway, it’s fairly safe to assume there’s not going to be any official campaigning in Second Life and it also doesn’t look likely that any grassroots efforts are underway. Given the heavy presence of US presidential hopefuls in SL, was I being naive in assuming there would at least be some activity from an Australian perspective? I fully understand that with a lot less than 15000 active Aussie SL users, there’s not a lot of political gain in terms of votes gained – but surely there’s some awareness of the value of being perceived as innovative. The first Australian political party who sets up in SL is pretty much guaranteed widespread, mainstream media coverage.

I’d also be interested in hearing suggestions of how political parties could actually be of use in SL, if at all. I intend on bundling up the suggestions and emailing them to each of the parties for comment.

Hillary Clinton’s SL Campaign Plans

As mentioned previously, Hillary Clinton has a campaign presence in SL. We took the opportunity to catch up with chairperson of the Hillary 2008 Group in Second Life, Padlurowncanoe Dibou. She’s an educational technology director, Democrat member and mother or three. She’s also very passionate about the benefits of Second Life for promoting policy debate.

Lowell: Can you outline how you got involved in the Hillary campaign?

PD: I visited the former Hillary HQ and began my initial participation there.

Lowell: I’m assuming you’re a member of the Democrats?

PD: Yes, I am.

Lowell: May I ask where in the US you are located in real life (RL)?

PD: I am from Arkansas, home of the Clintons for many years. Arkansas is Bill’s home state and he was governor of Arkansas for many years.


Lowell: Is this build an official part of the RL campaign?

PD: As for being the chair (of the virtual HQ), it is something that evolved. I was asked by other members to do so. I am not a RL politico — my interest is not associated with any political career aspirations.

Lowell: Why did you choose Hillary’s campaign rather than one of the other potential candidates? The Arkansas connection?

PD: I am here because I passionately believe that Senator Clinton is the best person to lead the United States both nationally and internationally.

Lowell: What are the main advantages Sen Clinton has over the other Democrat runners such as Obama and Edwards?

PD: Senator Clinton is the only candidate that has the wherewithall to put together a top notch team of people and she has the international trust and support to lead us away from where the Bush administration has put us.

Lowell: In regard to this virtual HQ – were you part of the team that built the preview stage and how has the response been since it opened?

PD: Let me back up for a minute to answer that question. My first approach here is to serve the Hillary supporters here in SL. My primary purpose is them — not to be regurgitation of what they would find in RL. This is a unique opportunity to take political participation and discourse in a new direction. You, as a blogger, are part of that new direction. After the debates, the major news networks immediately look to see what the bloggers are saying. This is the next dimension to that.

Lowell: So in that respect has this HQ attracted lots of interest from SL residents and the wider community?

PD: Our last event on the 4th of July — “You and I — 24 Hours of Freedom in SL” was attended by hundreds of SL residents. In RL and SL, we are dealing with a new phenomenon — people using technology to play, to communicate, receive news, etc — and it is becoming more interactive and accessible all the time.

Lowell: Who is funding this HQ? It’s a great sized parcel / sim which isn’t cheap.

PD: It is run by the Hillary group’s steering committee. To give you an example, the photos, letters, and Fed Ex costs to contact the RL campaign came from my pocket.

Lowell: Ok – so to clarify, the steering committee doesn’t currently have a formal connection to the RL campaign team but you are hoping it will be endorsed?

PD: My first priority is to serve the SL Hillary supporters, the second is to put together and host events where important issues facing the United States are respectfully discussed, and the third is to build a bridge between the SL Hillary supporters and the RL campaign. I feel that if priority one and two are met, then the third will come.

Lowell: So the bridge building you’d hope would eventually lead to a formal endorsement of SL-based campaigning?

PD: Yes, that would give us support and an opportunity to raise funds in support of the Senator. This is a unique place. One of the best parts of SL is the response from the international community here. They are very supportive of the Clintons in general and are very vocal about their support of Hillary.

Lowell: Are you ever in touch with anyone on the RL campaign team?

PD: Yes, I keep them updated on our progress here in SL.

Lowell: The interest in political campaigning presences like this is whether candidates have the remotest interest in SL and how transparent the campaigns are. Hence my questions on linkages as I know some people are very wary of SL builds proclaiming to stand for a candidate yet avoid disclosing any link to the RL teams.

PD: I do think they have an interest. How could they not? The MacArthur Foundation has come to SL. Government organizations like NOAA and the CDC are here. Major corporations, universities, etc

Lowell: So you believe candidates themselves believe it’s a valid campaigning tool?

PD: Yes, but you have to put into perspective how rapidly SL has grown. I came in-world in November, and the growth and interest in it has been truly amazing. But in some ways, it is the Wild West. Regulations, legal matters, etc. have a difficult time keeping abreast of emerging technologies. SL is providing an opportunity and a voice to the people — sometimes people who don’t feel they have one in RL. It is also giving us an opportunity to evolve the old way of doing things.

Lowell: In regard to the array of policies and speeches etc you have here – do you get people utilising the opportunity to look at the details of Sen Clinton’s positions on things?

PD: First, take the Hillary HQ. Our vision is for it to be a fun place for supporters and interested people to come. We know that students learn better when it is fun — and I think the same holds for us adults. I have had many interesting political discussions here sitting on these couches, as the waves, roll in, and great music plays in the back ground. We held a universal health care discussion here with a panel of health care professionals and a moderator. The audience was asked to submit their thoughts and ideas to be compiled and shared with the RL campaign. Before and after, there were stories and ideas shared among SL residents. Afterwards, we enjoyed the music of a live entertainer here in SL. We make it fun — a time to make friends, learn, share, dance — and certainly there are those that may criticise our approach, thinking SL political events should be more like RL political events. But our recent turnout suggests otherwise.


Lowell: When the Democratic primaries have been completed and there’s a presidential candidate, do you think the other presences will throw their weight behind the successful person?

PD: I can’t speak for others, but as I told the Obama SL campaign, we should be friends as one day we will be working together. I intend to. There are more unifying factors amongst US Democrats than differences. I will be happy to take that agenda forward.

Lowell: If you had unlimited resources, what sort of campaign presence would you build in Second Life?

PD: Obviously, it would be helpful to have someone be able to devote themselves full time to the SL Hillary efforts. I, and others, must balance full time careers and families with our efforts here. As you can imagine, putting on a 24 hour event takes a great deal of planning and implementation — in addition to attending the event.

Lowell: Why do you think there are more Democrat candidate presences than Republican ones?

PD: US Democrats are progessive people. I think they have vision and are forward looking. That is certainly a description that applies to people that embrace SL’s possibilities. By the year 2010, 80% of websites will be in a virtual world.

Lowell: Have you had issues with griefing in a significant way and if so do you believe it’s come from your political opponents?

PD: No, griefing has not been a problem at our events.

Lowell: Do you think those sort of things could be an issue as the real campign gets underway next year?

PD: Certainly, once a democratic candidate is chosen, it raises the stakes and interest in that candidate to a whole new level. But with good management by people who are SL savvy, I don’t think it will be problematic.

Lowell: If Hillary is the successful nominee, what chances would you give of her making a virtual appearance in the future

PD: I think the chances of some kind of appearance would be good. There are a lot of ways to do that — just as the 7.7.07 concerts were brought to SL live today or how the MacArthur event was managed. All very successful, all very safe.

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