Last week, the House Telecommunications and the Internet Subcommittee held a hearing “to obtain testimony on the nature and growth of online virtual worlds; the types of applications and services, both commercial and non-commercial, supported and offered in such worlds; and any policy issues raised by virtual worlds that may need to be addressed or monitored.” The entire audio recording is available here and the transcript will soon be available here. While the representatives of the virtual world were from Second Life and focused discussion mostly on the adult grid, there was a lot applicable to youth no matter what virtual world, especially in regards to questions Congress is asking and why they are interested in the first place. It’s not all focused on wanting to regulate the space but also to understand what it is being used for.
Acknowledged during the presentation was that with virtual worlds; the possibilities and applications are unlimited, individuals can connect with each other in new and creative ways, the way people and organizations can use the internet is changing, and there is far greater potential to make the real world a better place than with the ‘flat and isolated’ 2D internet.
Some of the issues the subcommittee was concerned about included keeping youth safe, fraud/gambling, addiction, educational, social and business uses, and the need for an abundance of bandwidth. Two of the most interesting comments I thought were that there is actually more of a lack of anonymity-which we might think would be the exact opposite given that our avatar can look like anything we want it to be but because of the strong identities created they are usually sustainable through repeated interactions online. Also, that virtual worlds might in fact be more police able and more maintainable than websites since it is a rigorously self policed (in terms of Second Life and other sites) and can be a staff monitored community in ways that websites can’t. While that is a broad generalization of all virtual worlds and nothing is 100% safe-it is a way to look at the environments many of our youth engage in.
Posted by Kelly Czarnecki