Regulatory Virtual Worlds Backlash on the Horizon?

May 13 2008 / by Alvis Brigis / In association with Future
Category: Metaverse   Year: 2008   Rating: 8 Hot

The broader Second Life consumer backlash that many predicted for 2007 (and actually occurred) may pale in comparison to the regulatory backlash coming in late 2008 or 2009.

Marking what could well be the first resounding shot in a full-fledged war on virtual worlds, and rich online environments in general, US House Representative Mark Kirk (R-Ill.) extended his crusade against online predators to the rapidly growing virtual world of Second Life , calling for “common sense reforms” that would make it harder for predators to intermingle with youngsters.

Coming on the heels of a Congressional hearing on the positives and negatives of virtual worlds , Kirk’s recent remarks are the most negative to date by a U.S. legislator and marks a serious push to regulate new digital terrain, especially during a presidential election year that looks to pit young vs. old, innovation vs. conservativism.

In a May 11 interview with a local news channel Kirk presented Second Life as “one of the fastest growing websites on the planet” adding that he’s worried “that they don’t properly screen for children.” “Parents should be more aware of this,” he said. (cont.)

Kirk’s interviewer, local news anchor Mary Ann Ahern tellingly agreed, “It’s uncharted waters. There’s just so much out there that parents, and the teens and young kids just don’t realize where it’s headed.”

Then Kirk got to the very heart of his argument, responding, “That’s the biggest problem that I see. Most of the Senators and members Congress are in their 40s, 50s and 60s. Most parents didn’t have this when they were growing up. This was not part of my childhood or most of the parents’ that I represent, but it is part of your children’s growing up. Most kids now have MySpace pages. The other day I was with a group of 10-year-olds at school and I asked them who had a MySpace page and nearly the entire class raised their hands. Well, it’s illegal for kids at 10 to have a MySpace page, but they lied about their age and did anyway. I’m worried that we have created virtual hunting grounds.”

So what exactly is Kirk, a big supporter of the Deleting Online Predators Act that passed the House and nearly the Senate, suggesting?

“The law has changed over time to take care of new technology to protect kids. We don’t have this kind of material on radio and tv, so I think [we] can say ‘We don’t want to ban this. If you’re an adult you should be able to go and do what you want. But for the protection of kids, some common sense reforms ought to take place.’”

And that’s where we cut to the chase.

With the pace of change accelerating, enabling an explosion of virtual worlds, bringing BCIs- to the cusp of consumer reality, and catalyzing social media structures that shake-up our established notions of work, privacy and socialization, it’s clear that violent video games, MySpace and Second Life are just the first in a long line of disruptive technologies that will make many people very nervous. Thus, the path to social influence will open wide to those willing to take advantage of alarmism and knee-jerk social responses – folks considerably more aggressive and socially conservative than Kirk, who actually comes across as moderately reasonable.

When considering that parents of the civic Millennial generation are becoming more protective of their children, which occurs cyclically every four generations as documented by generational scholars Strauss and Howe , it begins to look like a perfect storm for a significant technology backlash, spurred on in reaction to the graphic and open-ended nature of virtual worlds.

(via Virtual Worlds News)

Will efforts to regulate virtual worlds that benefit certain politicians spur a broader technology backlash?

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