A Rape In Cyberspace January 11, 2001 3:03 PM   Subscribe

A Rape In Cyberspace. Posted for the attention of our glorious facilitator and factotum, but also for people who've seen MeFi grow over these past months. I've been on LambdaMOO since 1994; I missed the "Bungle Affair", but am good friends with one of the victims; I've seen the throes of an online community struggle to regulate itself and its growth. Not that I'm suggesting the same approach, but it's good deep background.
posted by holgate to MetaFilter-Related at 3:03 PM (16 comments total) 1 user marked this as a favorite

That's a good read, holgate. The Bungle affair was touched upon briefly in December, but unfortunately no significant discussion developed from it, so a re-reading is well in order.

I struggle with the question of how an online community should regulate itself, and I am loathe to endorse structures that could potentially stifle discourse. However, there is a real need for providing an environment where discussion can take place between folks of divergent opinions.

MeFi works because most everyone here is dedicated towards keeping the community civil, but events of the last couple of days show how easy it is for a small group of folks to stir up the pot. Unlike RL, when you encounter someone distasteful in cyberspace, it is more difficult to avoid that person and stick to people with whom you are comfortable.

Do we need wizards (besides Matt)? Do we need to create mechanisms for showing trolls the door? I guess at this point, I would rather trust my fellow MeFilistines to self-police, though it's hard to do sometimes.

Damn, I think I've made these same comments in a number of threads today; it's suppertime.
posted by Avogadro at 3:52 PM on January 11, 2001

That was both fascinating and disturbing. I'd never heard of it before. Thank you for the link.
posted by Steven Den Beste at 8:19 PM on January 11, 2001

Truly. Now that is being IN a community. The author raises quite interesting conjecture about 21st century implications for the potential of psychological struggle between the virtual and real. Gives one pause. Great link.
posted by netbros at 9:47 PM on January 11, 2001

I, too, am disturbed ... that people take their virtual lives so seriously. Are the grad students so absorbed in VR that they are driven to tears by a "rape" in a MOO cut from cloth much different than that of the fathers who abandon their sons for the sake of Everquest?
posted by luke at 9:56 PM on January 11, 2001

Imagine, for a minute luke, that someone figured out your MeFi password and started posting things that you completely disagree with.

I'm not trying to be critical here, I'm just trying help you see where the people are coming from.

The way you represent yourself here pretty much defines who you are to all of us, and for someone to manipulate that definition of self would be something of an offense to you.

Now imagine that you couldn't send Matt an e-mail saying "Hey man, someone got into my account. Could you block that?" and all you could do was sit and watch as your reputation got ruined.

That's an aspect of what's happened to those people. The LambdaMOO environment is much "richer" than Mefi's though. By that I mean you've got something of an avatar, you can move from room to room, you can perform actions, and stuff. Having control of that avatar taken away from them, well it can be pretty severe. Especially considering the sexual context that was done to their avatars.

It's really not on par with actual physical rape, but it is something of a mind fuck.

The difference betweent he LambdaMOO people and the Everquest Dad is that he chose to perform the actions he did. He chose to neglect his child, and the horrible consequences were the direct result of his actions.
posted by cCranium at 6:41 AM on January 12, 2001

That would annoy me. But I would never, ever call it "rape."

posted by luke at 7:45 AM on January 12, 2001

Rape comes into play because of the forced actions were of a sexual nature, and because it was played out as a rape. One person, the person who normally controls the avatar was saying "I am not doing this" while the person who hacked control was making the avatar get on its knees, or spread its legs.

I mean, it was rape. A forced sexual act. What else would you call it? That's the definition of rape. Okay, it wasn't physical, but that's why they call it "Virtual Rape" because it provides the context of a virtual reality.

What else would you call a forced sexual act on a virtual representation of a person?

That's not a classic "Incredulous question to proove point" question, honest. I'm genuinely curious what you would call it.
posted by cCranium at 8:45 AM on January 12, 2001

I would call it a "minor annoyance."

This was not an act. This was speech. People who cannot tell the difference should spend less time at their keyboards.

This prank was as much "a forced sexual act on a virtual representaiton of a person" as would be calling someone a "buttmunch," which would be an "act" that gives the (presumably) false impression that the "victim" munches butts. Would you call drawing a picture of someone doing an indecent act "rape"? I just drew a picture -- crudely, I'm afraid -- of Calista Flockhart sodomizing Christine Aguilera (stick figures, both) with a Golden Globe. Does that make me a rapist? I mean, this is a "forced sexual act on a virtual representation of a person," is it not?

To call any of these scenarios "rape" trivializes true victims of sexual violence, just as calling someone a Nazi trivializes victims of the Holocaust. I feel very strongly about this.

To me, Mr. Bungle comes across as the only sensible participant in this affair. (Then again, I've always been a big fan of the real Mr. Bungle.)
posted by luke at 11:27 AM on January 12, 2001

I'm not trying to trivialize victims of the physical act, and I'm truly sorry you feel that way, and I apologize if I presented my argument that way. I did try to clearly state that, I obviously didn't.

Rape, by one definition, is "The crime of forcing another person to submit to sex acts, especially sexual intercourse. "

Sexual intercourse is not the only form of rape, and physical rape is not the only kind of rape.

Note the other definitions on the page of rape:
2. The act of seizing and carrying off by force; abduction.
3. Abusive or improper treatment; violation: a rape of justice.
While physical, "actual" sexual rape is one of the most heinous crimes against a person, the word has other meanings that are quite acceptable in common usage.

I'd really like to invoke Godwin's Law here, but I don't think you've "lost" because I don't think there's anything to lose.

Nazi, on the other hand, has two definitions but when capitalized only one applies (much like "holocaust" and "Holocaust").
1. A member of the National Socialist German Workers' Party, founded in Germany in 1919 and brought to power in 1933 under Adolf Hitler.
2. Often nazi. An adherent or advocate of policies characteristic of Nazism; a fascist.
There's also a difference that's obvious to me between drawing a picture of two random people performing a sexual act, and taking control of someone's avatar from them and performing sexual acts on it with your own avatar.
posted by cCranium at 12:50 PM on January 12, 2001

I dunno... if someone starts attending rape victim sessions coz of this, there's something wrong w/ them. I really don't see the incident as anything but impersonation. It's just the internet, guys. It's the same as if someone wrote letters purporting to be from you saying nasty stuff; it's not nice, but it's not rape. cCranium, I think the term is used in this instance a lot more literally than you indicate.
posted by sonofsamiam at 1:11 PM on January 12, 2001

Calling mean-spirited harassment on a MOO "rape," or even "virtual rape," is a complete trivialization of the crime. It's like people who claim to have been "emotionally raped" because of something offensive that happened to them. I'll never understand the instinct to trade on the anguish of real rape victims like that.

Case in point:

"If you are emotionally raped, the single most important thing to do is to accept that you are a rape victim and treat yourself accordingly." -- Michael Fox, The Emotional Rape Syndrome
posted by rcade at 11:23 PM on January 12, 2001

I don't really want to continue this thread, but I just wanted to say that the arguments against my standpoint have all been well-presented, and do make a whole lot of sense. I'll be taking time to reconsider it.

I still don't feel that this trivializes the victims of the real crime, but before arguing my point on semantics again I'll do some serious thinking.

Generally speaking, when my viewpoint's diametrically opposed to those whose opinions I respect, I'm wrong.
posted by cCranium at 6:38 AM on January 13, 2001

Hey, we're grown-ups. We can disagree. My venting was never really directed at you, cc, as much as the Village Voice author's language and conjecture.
posted by luke at 8:45 AM on January 13, 2001

I'm quite content to agree to disagree and - dirty little secret - I think the tone of the article is somewhat overblown. (Though it is interesting to note that it's written from the perspective of a "virtual citizen", which may be why that tone's taken)

I was more in the debate for the debate though, and when it comes to something as meaningful to people as the word rape is to the people who've spoken up, I'd rather just back down, respect that meaning and reconsider my viewpoint.

It is to a loaded debate topic, one that could easily blow up and I'd much rather not have that happen just for the sake of churning my brain. :-)
posted by cCranium at 9:43 AM on January 13, 2001

erk, delete that "to" in the last sentence. Poor post-preview editing on my part.
posted by cCranium at 9:44 AM on January 13, 2001

luke: the "is it rape or not?" argument was one that LambdaMOO hauled over the coals in 1994 (warning: 600k-plus link), and I don't think you'll find many better exchanges on the subject.

As I said in my original post, my time as an active member of Lambda -- when Lambda was itself active and vibrant -- attuned me to the nuances of online communities, and the way in which RL activities translate, or don't translate, into a text-based medium.

And cCranium: I have my own views on Dibbell, that I'll keep private, but I think he tries to be both an insider and an outsider, when he never managed to sustain either role particularly well within Lambda.
posted by holgate at 2:32 AM on January 16, 2001

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