Issue 27 07.15.2011

Issue 27
The Justice League Unlimited

Why we do what we do, and how we do it

There seems to be more rumors than facts floating around the grid about the Justice League Unlimited (JLU), a public service organization made up of members who dress up like comic book superheroes. This short piece is to address some of those perceptions and to shed light on how we do things. Though our mission includes education and charity work, this essay will concentrate on what is the most public face of the JLU–peacekeeping.

The Situation in Which We Find Ourselves

There are two documents that are the “law of the land” for conduct in Linden Lab’s virtual world of Second Life: the Community Standards (CS) and the Terms of Service (TOS). Some TOS violations Linden Lab can detect by automated technical means, but most of these are not related to in-world virtual conduct. Linden Labs does not have an in-world police force to patrol the grid looking for TOS and CS violations.

SL Justice League

SL Justice League

There is no avatar dubbed, “Officer Linden.” What the Lab has chosen to do is rely on its community of users to spot infractions of the TOS and CS, and file Abuse Reports (AR) that can be investigated by Lindens on the Resident Experience Support Inworld (RESI) team. Linden Lab has, wrongfully or not, put the burden of discovering violations of the rules on the residents of Second Life.

Some are in it for the Lulz

Troll, Goon, Griefer–the topics of articles in Wired Magazine–are the main reason the Abuse Report system exists in the first place. These characters do not have a good day until they upset yours. They will assure you that you are taking Second Life too seriously and that you just need to relax. Their strategies for pointing out this philosophy usually illicit negative emotional reactions; this practice is known as “trolling.” If you react, they “win” and they laugh about it, or in their own terms they “get the lulz.” Within Internet forums, this is usually done through posting art, conversations, or captioned photographs. Within the virtual world of Second Life, more often people resort to a more visceral (yet still virtual) practice known as “griefing.” Griefing, in short, is any action taken to lessen the enjoyment of others by causing grief. In Second Life, this often takes the form of an attack that limits one’s ability to use Second Life by preventing them from moving (“caging”) and from talking (“chat spammers”), hearing in-world sounds (“sound spammers”), or viewing the environment around you (“particle spammers”). Other types of attack can result in filling up a region with so many objects that moving or building becomes impossible (“replicators”), crashing a region and logging everyone out, or crashing clients so that they are forcibly logged out of Second Life. Yet another type of attack combines the above techniques, designed to take up simulator resources and lag the sim so that the use of the region becomes so slow as to be impossible to use in any meaningful manner.

To create these types of attacks, a certain level of technical acumen is required, but, to use such attacks, only the basest of technical skills are required: the knowledge of how to use the Second Life client to move from place to place and to receive objects into and rez them from the inventory window. Griefers have developed networks and groups within Second Life to coordinate attacks and set up “weapon caches” where one could be outfitted with equipment that could be used in Griefing incidents, called “raids.”

Enter the Justice League

Others may historicize the founding of the Justice League Unlimited (JLU). I was not around at that time, but I will tell you the situation we find ourselves in currently. As I said, it is up to Second Life residents to discover and report CS and TOS violations by those whose main interest in logging into Second Life is to break the rules. Who will stand up and do what Linden Lab is not willing or able to do: actively patrol “trouble areas” and report CS and TOS violations in a clear and organized manner?

The JLU are not vigilantes. We have no police powers. We do not act like law enforcement. We do not detain, arrest, or otherwise hinder those breaking the rules. We merely observe and report. We do nothing that any other resident of Second Life cannot do themselves. We have no special powers to ban other avatars and we have no formal arrangement with Linden Lab. We are less vigilantes and more of a neighborhood watch organization.

Given Linden Lab’s articulated model of abuse reporting, I can only guess what they expected. They may have expected griefing to be targeted towards individuals who then would submit abuse reports. In other words, large scale attacks would be seen by many and then reported by many. In practice, this does not seem to happen. Either most residents do not care about reporting abuse or, more likely, most residents do not know how to report abuse. This is where the JLU steps in.

A Day on Patrol

Though patrolling is not our only peacekeeping activity, it is our most visible. Typically we patrol in areas where griefing is likely to happen. A prime griefing area has four elements: first, it has build rights so Griefers may rez; second, scripts can run so the rez can wreak havoc; third, there is open access so that Griefers can actually be there; and, lastly, there must be decent traffic so sufficient people will be affected by the attack. Outside of targeted areas, the most common scene of a griefing attack is a public sandbox, which usually has all four elements and no private estate management. Since it is public land, any response must come from the Lindens, but the Lindens will not know about the attack lest somebody tells them. The JLU, along with others, provides the reporting necessary to alert the RESI team that something needs their attention.

Occasionally a situation can be resolved without filing an abuse report. When the JLU sees something rezzed that violates the CS or TOS (usually something “broadly offensive”), the first part of a response is to contact the owner of the object and make them aware that they are breaking the rules and give them the chance to remove the offense before filing an abuse report. I am reminded of one incident when I was a JLU recruit and came across something broadly offensive. When I contacted the owner about it, he apologized. He had been acting out of actual grief over his close friend who had recently died. He did not know how to direct his anger. A kind word from a concerned stranger was all that was needed to resolve this situation.

Tights? Seriously?

The most misunderstood thing that the JLU does is dress as superheroes, but we have quite a few reasons for this. In Second Life, one can choose every aspect of how one wants to appear in the virtual world. Unlike real life, the way one appears is completely decided by choice. In a world where one can appear as anything, how you appear can be significant in-world, as well as have a strong symbolic context from the real world. The primary reason we dress up like superheroes is to communicate that we are “good guys,” here to serve and help, calling to mind the qualities of classic comic book characters who typically wear spandex.

Wearing bright colors and flashy outfits also makes the JLU natural targets to those who choose to attack. It is in our operating procedure to intentionally draw fire from others, making ourselves targets during attacks to protect victims from those who are trying to cause grief.

Lastly, the JLU wears superhero costumes because it is fun. After all, if we are not enjoying our time in Second Life, why be there at all? We do what we do because we enjoy Second Life. We think everyone that uses the service has the right to that enjoyment and we oppose those that would make Second Life unenjoyable.

Back at the Watchtower…

Hopefully, I have explained a bit more about the JLU peacekeeping process, but keep in mind that is only one part of our overall mission. Not everyone in the League patrols, but we are all committed to making the grid a better place than how we found it. To this end, we also have an education program where we teach seminars and classes. We, as a team, raise awareness and money for charities such as Project Jason, to help the families of missing persons, and the American Cancer Society’s Relay For Life of Second Life. We give service, time, and funds to these and other worthy charities.

The Justice League Unlimited does not solely exist to fight bad guys, nor do we revel in seeing other avatars banned due to what we report. We are here because we genuinely care for the virtual world of Second Life and the residents that use it. Anyone can be a hero, it’s not about what scripted gear you have or what you wear across your chest. It is about the choices you make. I bet someone you know may need a hero in their life. Be that hero for someone today.

By ZenMondo Wormser