Tuesday, 23 January 2007

Group Press Release: Free Speech in Second Life and the Anti-Front National Protests

The presence of the Front National in Second Life currently makes the whole issue of Free Speech within this virtual world a highly relevant one. So we would like to take this opportunity to define SLLU's position in relation to some of the difficulities surrounding this matter.

Our group's current position regarding 'free speech' within SL is outlined as follows:

We do not feel that residents have automatic 'rights' of free speech as such in SL other than those granted to us by Linden Labs. Those rights do not seem to be democratically decided by the community at large, and are subject to change at any time. So, as far as we are aware, there are no constitutionally enshrined rights to free speech within SL that are equivalent to those which exist in RL societies which aspire to democracy. Also, the fact that (as we understand it) all chat and IMs are accessible and able to be monitored by Linden Labs at all times, makes the entire concept of 'free speech' in SL very different to the concept as it would normally be applied in RL.
In principle at least, therefore, the idea of SL residents having a 'right' to free speech is somewhat illusory since it must by definition operate within what is potentially an authoritarian and non-democratic social structure - in practice, this is inconsistenty regulated, at Linden Labs' staffs own discretion.

As long as SL is structured as it is - we find it hard to envisage how the right to 'free speech' in the RL sense of the term would be technically possible to achieve. We do however think it is in Linden Labs' own interests to not be seen to excessively restrict freedom of residents' expression, even though they may theoretically have the power to do this, and we think it is currently residents' responsiblity to act in their capacity as a consumer pressure group and SL citizens and lobby LL to ensure that any restrictions on their freedoms of expression are kept as minimal as possible. We believe the successful future of Second Life depends on this balance of power being kept in check.

We would argue that the RL controversy surrounding Front National is grounds enough for the Lindens to consider whether LL wants to allow them to be represented in a PG zone, or whether what they stand for in SL is identical to what they stand for in RL, and thus incompatible with LLs own Community Standards. In RL They are associated with xenophobic violence within France, and advocate the enforced repatriation of immigrants. We interpret this as being rooted in a historically dangerous and inciteful nationalistic and racist ideology, even though the Front National are nowadays apparently fairly careful and eager to officially distance themselves from any such overt associations. However, the reality of what is and isn't enforced within PG is somewhat inconsistent, and we don't know of any previous precedents where LL has removed groups or individual residents from PG zones, based on their real life actions or political affilliations, because they have anticipated that they could pose a threat to the upholding of PG standards in the community. Therefore, we think the stronger case would be to look at removing them from PG, based on their actions inworld - which will need to be closely monitored - and to seek for LL to take seriously the existing reports of FN group members harassing residents and businesses in the area where they were originally based in Porcupine.

We do not as a group, seek an outright ban of FN from SL before their actions inworld merit it - because, as abhorrent as we may find their policies - we don't think an ideology can be extinguished merely by being conveniently pushed out of sight. We believe that now that this real-world political problem has been brought to wider attention amongst the SL community, it would be better for such an ideology to be combatted within SL by means of a counter-information and education campaign, and that this would be more likely to have beneficial knock-on RL consequences in terms of fully utilising this medium to raise awareness of RL political issues and conflicts.

To those who would criticise us for applying the term 'neo-fascist' to this organisation as empty rhetoric, we would argue that since neo-fascism implies an ideology with nationalistic, xenophobic, intolerant and extreme far-right tendencies, it's usage is justified. Furthermore, due to the extremity of of FN's proposed policies regarding immigrant repatriation, and because of their leader LePen's history of and conviction for 'holocaust minimisation', and his ties with Mussolini's daughter, for example, we do not think the parallels with historical European Fascism are unwarranted, or over-exaggerated. We also urge people to remember that although Second Life is popularly perceived as 'a game' - it is now increasingly being used as a platform for real-world political parties to campaign. The FN in SL are *not* gamers - they are seeking to represent and recruit for a real-life destructive political ideology, the implications of which should not be trivialised.

Regarding free speech within our organisation - we are a very diverse international group of people, and obviously none of us have totally identical views. It is important for us to debate and discuss these within the collective, and to act on the issues where we are able to achieve a measure of consensus.
It is essential for us, and we believe, for all people as human beings to be able to express their own views freely. We are strong believers in healthy dissent! But we also realise that if we, as individuals, are of interest to outside parties, because of our belonging to a particular group, we have a responsibility not to misrepresent our own views as being those of the entire group membership.

We do object to being personally sought out and approached, as individual group members, to give individual views which are then intentionally used to give a distorted picture of the group as a whole. On any matters where we have achieved group consensus, we seek to send out group-compiled releases, so that the distinction between the inevitable individual divergences, and areas where we are in majority agreement can be made clear.

Signed: SLLU

The SL Left Unity group was set up by members of the Scottish Socialist Party in November 2006. It has outgrown it's original kernel of SSP members into a world wide left unity group comprising of people from many countries and all walks of life who are interested in social justice and whom are critical of the current world wide neo-conservative capitalist system.

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