Sitting in the Sky News venue, waiting for the debate, I'm struck by the number of child avatars in attendance in this packed house. I expected the audience to contain at least a few of them. Maybe as many as a quarter. Most of the avatars represented however are child avatars. Maybe some people who do not usually wear them are doing so just for this occasion, perhaps not. It is, after all of great interest to the community.
The debate is supposed to be on "Do real-world rules apply here", off the back of the recent video report by Farrell on an incident of sexual ageplay within Second Life. Well, of course they do, and they are applied. That would make for a very short debate. It's still fifteen minutes before showtime, the Sky News broadcast audio servers have crackled and died, Jason Farrell is on stage and we still don't know who the participants in the debate are going to be.
All we know so far is that one of them is wearing the avatar named Interviewee01 SkyNews, and that we're still waiting for the other one.
Ten minutes to go, and the audio stream is very marginal. A few people are getting it, most people aren't. Almost nobody in Second Life actually is, and the successful ones are using an external media player. The audience is largely grumbling about the presentation being amateurish.
Eight minutes to go, and the audio stream is washed out in high-pitched feedback.
Five minutes to go. Ear splitting bursts of feedback are common on the stream, and you can hear people laughing and chatting in the background trying to sort out technical problems.
One minute to go. Some users are reporting success with the stream, which is distorted and full of static. It sounds like someone just knocked over a coffee mug.
Two minutes after the hour. Distant voices and chuckles, what sounds like furniture moving, cables and boxes being moved around. Then the audio ceases entirely.
Eight minutes past the hour. Audio comes back in and the participants are talking among each other in hushed tones, and experiencing high levels of viewer lag.
Ten minutes past the hour. The stream goes silent again.
Twelve minutes past the hour. Jason Farrell tells us they're about ready to start and provides a stream URL for listening. Apparently the stream won't be put through the parcel.
Thirteen minutes after. More whispering on the audio stream, and more audio checks.
Fifteen minutes in. We're told there are three other participants than Farrell (who will be chairing). The only name that makes it through the distortion in the first round of introductions is Chris Green. During the second round of introductions reveals that the first guest is Jim Gamble (Chief Executive of the Child Exploitation and Online Protection). Jim's introductory speech was distorted, but we gather that they are only interested in situations of actual harm.
The second speaker a (garbled) researcher at (garbled) takes the position that assorted fantasy imagery may reinforce and desensitize people to sexual perversion and deviant sexual behavior.
The third is Chris Green of the White Ribbon Campaign against violence against women.
The floor is then opened to questions - obviously this isn't a debate as advertised, but more of a panel discussion.
As the first question is read out by Farrell, the audio devolves into untinelligible gibberish.
Several minutes later, the audio stabilizes, and Gamble is speaking. His point appears to be the universal applicability of law, online or off - whether or not that is recognized by the public at large.
We think the next speaker is the unknown researcher, who says that it is possible that the potentially deviant fantasy role-playing that can take place in virtual worlds may be transferrable to the real world, but that it is not at present provable, or known which individuals might be susceptable to this.
Farrell brings up the subject of a role-played rape-scene between two consenting adult partners the previous day, and puts the question to his speakers.
Green's (we think it was Green) replied, but his response was lost.
Gamble supports the position that basic ageplay (the role-play of a child avatar in a non-sexual context) is basically not an issue from where he stands. Only the role-play of sexual situations involving actual or simulated minors is a problem, as far as he is concerned.
Farrell asks the audience if anyone is involved in sexual ageplay, and if so why.
Nobody in the audience replies in the affirmative.
Gamble reinforces again that non-sexual ageplay can be healthy and positive, but that sexual cases are to be taken issue with. In his experience the latter case is generally indicative of <the audio vanishes again>.
39 minutes past. The stream comes back. Green or the researcher is speaking. Simulated child sex like this is not illegal, he says, but it should be.
Gamble strongly affirms that sexual ageplay is a gateway behavior. He is not sure that sexual ageplay should be a criminal offense, but he is certain that people who do it should be further investigated.
Farrell reads out the statement from Linden Lab (one person in the audience says that Linden Lab was invited to the debate but declined to participate).
Gamble acknowledges that Linden Lab is working hard to keep the rules.
Gamble adds that Second Life is a 3D world where everything is generated by people, just like real life. Real life, he says, is a 3D world full of content generated by people.
Farrell asks Gamble if there is a police presence in Second Life following up and investigating these activities. Gamble says yes, absolutely.
"... sado masochistic games where people beat the hell out of each-other..."
"Anyone who represents a risk to a child will get no quarter from me and my colleagues"
"In many parts of the world it is already against the law to have sex with a computer simulation of a child"
Farrell closes the panel with a question. Should images of simulated child pornography be outlawed? I could two against the proposition, and the remainder of the respondents for. Many say "It already is outlawed" or some variation on that theme. One points out that it is unconstitutional in the USA to outlaw it.
The debate closes with a chorus of angry and disappointed chatter among the audience.
"WE WANT FREEDOM."
"Showed me ignorant people want to ignore."
"IT WAS NO DEBATE!"
"Really interesting!!! NOT! That wasn't a debate"
"Get off of our internet farell, you're not welcome here."
"Great we got preached at."
The remainder of the discussion from that point among the audience became increasingly fragmented, with most everyone talking at once, but it is clear that the majority of the audience is unhappy. On the whole, Gamble seems the most clear and eloquent of the speakers - though, to be fair, we heard a whole lot more of what he actually said.
Was it a debate? No. It was, essentially a panel discussion (marred by technical difficulties). Was it a media stunt? Perhaps. At the end of the day, the discussion never quite got onto the actual listed question, and instead focused on sexual deviancy and sexual ageplay.