Don’t do it – not even in a virtual world

Hannu Ahola has an interesting story to tell.

His story takes place in a virtual world that many of us who are too busy in the real world never visit. Hannu is an active player of an online role-playing game called World of Warcraft. What is he doing then when he is “playing”? In the World of Warcraft, players from all over the world buy accounts and create characters. By accomplishing different missions, these characters gain skills and virtual wealth that other players envy.

So, when does the game end? Never – much to the relief of its 11 million active players.

Hannu’s story started about 4 years ago. His friends were urging him to play World of Warcraft. At first, he was not interested. But after a little convincing, he bought an account from an acquaintance, which turned out to be mistake.  But Hannu didn’t know that yet.

He found himself spending more and more time playing. He estimates that during those first two years he played 8-10 hours per day. Every day. The result was an impressive character that accumulated a substantial amount of wealth and talents. The character was so good that people might have been willing to pay real world money for it.

And this fact did not escape the acquaintance who originally owned the account. Using the original account information, this 18-year old boy was able to take control of Hannu’s character and the virtual wealth Hannu had been building for years. And it seemed that there was nothing Hannu could do about it.

Most of us have trouble understanding this kind of loss. Hannu explained it to me: “What if you had collected stamps passionately for 2 years. You had put all your spare time into it and then someone took it away. How would that make you feel?”

After he figured out that it was his acquaintance who stole his character, Hannu contacted the boy – who promptly ignored him. He then contacted the boy’s mother but got no help.

Stealing is punishable in the real world, but did not seem to matter in the virtual world. Except to Hannu. He hired a lawyer and took the issue to court.

After a 1,5 year battle, the young boy was sentenced to pay Hannu 4000 euros for the character Hannu finally never got back. But Hannu had won the moral battle: there are limits to what you can do in the virtual world. Hannu’s case represents the first time that a real world court in Finland dealt with a matter related to virtual worlds, and I have the feeling there’s more to come.

(For more about Hannu and the value of virtual world commodities, check out Sean from the F-Secure Labs on “What is a World of Warcraft Account Worth?“)

The boundaries between virtual worlds and the real world are blurring. World of Warcraft accounts get phished all the time. Children are bullied in virtual worlds. In China, even murders have been committed because of  virtual world events. But they also provide a lot of opportunities for enjoyment and self-expression – as long as we obey the law. And for that to happen, we’re going to need a lot more people like Hannu.

So good job, my friend!

Cheers,
Marja

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How should we deal with defamation and hate speech on the net? – Poll

Everybody probably agree that the net has developed a discussion culture very different from what we are used to in real life. The used adjectives vary form inspiring, free and unrestricted to crazy, sick and shocking. The (apparent) anonymity when discussing on-line leads to more open and frank opinions, which is both good and bad. It becomes especially bad when it turns into libel and hate speech. What do you think about this? Read on and let us know in the poll below. We do have laws to protect us against defamation. But the police still has a very varying ability to deal with crimes on the net. And the global nature of Internet makes investigations harder. Most cases are international, at least here in Europe where we to a large extent rely on US-based services. This is in the headlines right now here in Finland because of a recent case. The original coverage is in Finnish so I will give you a short summary in English. A journalist named Sari Helin blogged about equal rights for sexual minorities, and how children are very natural and doesn’t react anyway if a friend has two mothers, for example. This is a sensitive topic and, hardly surprising, she got a lot of negative feedback. Part of the feedback was clear defamation. Calling her a whore, among other nasty things. She considered it for a while and finally decided to report the case to the police, mainly because of Facebook comments. This is where the really interesting part begins. Recently the prosecutor released the decision about the case. They simply decided to drop it and not even try to investigate. The reason? Facebook is in US and it would be too much work contacting the authorities over there for this rather small crime. A separately interviewed police officer also stated that many of the requests that are sent abroad remain unanswered, probably for the same reason. This reflects the situation in Finland, but I guess there are a lot of other countries where the same could have happened. Is this OK? The resourcing argument is understandable. The authorities have plenty of more severe crimes to deal with. But accepting this means that law and reality drift even further apart. Something is illegal but everybody knows you will get away with the crime. That’s not good. Should we increase resourcing and work hard to make international investigations smoother? That’s really the only way to make the current laws enforceable. The other possible path is to alter our mindset about Internet discussions. If I write something pro-gay on the net, I know there’s a lot of people who dislike it and think bad things about me. Does it really change anything if some of these people write down their thoughts and comment on my writings? No, not really. But most people still feel insulted in cases like this. I think we slowly are getting used to the different discussion climate on the net. We realize that some kinds of writing will get negative feedback. We are prepared for that and can ignore libel without factual content. We value feedback from reputable persons, and anonymous submissions naturally have less significance. Pure emotional venting without factual content can just be ignored and is more shameful for the writer than for the object. Well, we are still far from that mindset, even if we are moving towards it. But which way should we go? Should we work hard to enforce the current law and prosecute anonymous defamers? Or should we adopt our mindset to the new discussion culture? The world is never black & white and there will naturally be development on both these fronts. But in which direction would you steer the development if you could decide? Now you have to pick the one you think is more important.   [polldaddy poll=8293148]   Looking forward to see what you think. The poll will be open for a while and is closed when we have enough data.   Safe surfing, Micke  

Sep 8, 2014
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