Monday, October 25, 2010

Unless you have been the focus of an online news story, you may not have pondered how anonymity topples the intent of privacy law, allowing trolls to intrude on your peace of mind, reduce you to a caricature, disclose private facts, and place you in an unflattering light. Nevertheless, occasions occur in academe that demand our intervention, such as harassment in virtual worlds, which can include incidents of racism, sexism, homophobia and even avatar sexual assault, discussed in my February article in Inside Higher Ed.

In a 2007 article about Second Life, published in The Chronicle of Higher Education, I presented then-Vice President of Linden Lab Robin Harper with this hypothetical: “Say a university requested the identity of a Second Life resident in the investigation of a code violation that occurred on the university's virtual campus. Would the company comply?”

"We would not provide this information without a subpoena," she stated.

Subpoenas were part of the discussion in media law class because the current event on that day involved Tyler Clementi, a Rutgers University freshman, secretly videotaped while engaging in intimate relations with another man. Soon after learning of the webcast, Clementi committed suicide by leaping from the George Washington Bridge. Clementi posted his suicide note — “Jumping off the gw bridge sorry" — on Facebook...