Terrorism and the virtual world

Here’s a sneak preview of a post that will be published on The Guardian’s gamesblog on Wednesday (now posted here):

GamePolitics throws out an issue I’ve been thinking about for a few years now, but have been loath to blog about – could the humble MMO be harbouring nefarious groups hell-bent on doing Evil to Western Civilisation? Could a terrorist actually be the person behind my so-called friend the Furry? Is s/he/it trying to draw me over to the dark side? What about all those cabals I’m not friendly with in my online games? Could they actually be groups of terrorists plotting against all that is Great and Good?

Quoting GamePolitics’ quote from Counterterrorism Blog (that’s a catchy name):

Streaming video can be uploaded into Second Life and a scenario can easily be constructed whereby an experienced terrorist bomb-maker could demonstrate how to assemble bombs using his avatar to answer questions as he plays the video… Just as Real Life companies such as Toyota test their products in Second Life so could terrorists construct virtual representations of targets they wish to attack…

TN guest author and blog master of 3pointD Mark Wallace attracted a good portion of ire to his suggestion that meta-guild W-Hat, who have presences in many MMO spaces, is exactly the type of group that should be observed:

Members and past members of the W-Hat groups there have been responsible for some of the most outrageous builds in all the virtual world — including satirizations of the 2001 attack on the World Trade Center and the assassination attempt on the pope.

Where is the line drawn? W-Hat is arguably one of the most creative presences in Second Life and succeeds in pushing the boundaries in all of the other worlds they are in. When do its members’ attacks graduate from dark satire/irritating griefing to “terrorism”? When their activities move into the so-called real world? The ever outspoken Second Life resident Prokofy Neva has been harangued by W-Hat members offline (read his viewpoint in Mark’s post) ; are they now part of a terrorist group?

via Crystaltips’ del.icio.us

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~ by aleks on March 5, 2007.

4 Responses to “Terrorism and the virtual world”

  1. [...] * cum sa castigi chestii prin Google Blog Search; * The Thinking Machine; * cum se manifesta terorismul in The Second World! * noul cover story de la NY Times – de ce credem in [...]

  2. If you look hard under the bed you’ll probably find a threat there, too.

  3. That’s a great article. Thank you for exploring this meme.

    I wonder when people will start thinking about augmented reality gaming in these terms.

  4. Ian – I agree, but if there’s one thing that’ll shake the tightrope of are-they-great-are-they-just-weird-or-are-they-a-threat-to-humanity-as-we-know-it debate about virtual worlds (outside of the dodgy virtual jiggery pokery), it’s the danger of the unknown.

    One of the questions I get asked most is, “How do you know you can trust the people you meet online?” This tends to come from people over the age of 30, including many of my non-techie friends. The short answer is, “I don’t”. The longer answer, and the one I use when the questioner has a bit more time, is “It’s really rather easy”.

    For people like us, who don’t just recognise the word “blog” but also make them, we _get_ that there are social norms and practices that dictate how we interact in an online context, even if we don’t think of them that way. For example, you wouldn’t just barge into a virtual room and start demanding services, or waltz onto a listserv and take without giving something back. We _get_ that there are courtesies and appropriate ways to behave.

    Also, I know who you are because we’ve interacted here before. I have a representation of Ian in my head, and if you suddenly start acting crazy or out of character, I’d probably back away.

    Bryan above, on the other hand, I have to make a judgement about. I might google him, look to see where else he’s posted, what othe r comments he’s made to see if he’s OK. I’d check him out using the handy data trail he’ll have left behind (thanks Bryan!).

    In 3D virtual worlds, where people use anonymised identities, they are still recognisable by their avatars. If I meet them through a mutual friend, I’d probably trust them more than if it was a “cold” meeting, but over time I’d get to know him/her through hims/her expressions, language and character.

    I guess what I’m trying to say, in a really long-winded way, is that there are many many social cues online, and we as digital people understand them. For the folks who view the internet as something Different and Strange, they’re going to think these questions, and they might, like the Counterterrorism guy, ask them. Shouldn’t we think about the definitions between online and offline activities before scaremongers do?

    Do I think it’s possible there might be nefarious goings on in spaces like this? Sure, it’s possible. But I doubt my friend the Furry is a bad guy.

    Bryan – you’re not a bad guy either. I think ARGs are far more controlled than virtual worlds etc and so the possibilities of “infiltration” as it were are less appealing. But that doesn’t mean they can’t be used for purposes other than brand marketing – have you heard of the new social responsibility ARG created by designer Jane McGonigal, World Without Oil (http://www.worldwithoutoil.org/)?

    Aleks

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