Second Life

You may have heard someone at the office talking about something online called ‘Second Life’.  Second Life is a computer game created by Linden Research, Inc. in 2003 that allows online users to create a ‘second life’.  The user created character, or avatar, walks around the virtual world, trades goods and services for money (Linden Dollars, or L$), interact and even marry other characters.  It is similar to many fantasy role playing games with large online communities, except that instead of a fantasy world and magical creatures, the fantasy mimics real life.  The creators of Second Life were honored by the Technology &Engineering Emmy Awards because they created a world where the content is entirely user-generated, including patterns on clothing, household objects, and avatars.
Despite its awards and technological innovation, Second Life has drawn sharp criticism for its tolerance of certain behaviors.  Second Life as a general rule does not allow users under the age of 18, although some younger people are able to find a way to slip past the nets.  One of the biggest complaints about Second Life is the propagation of child pornography.  Whether users create or trade it, it is illegal in most countries, including virtual depictions of sexual situations involving children. 
Virtual-world sexual activity between avatars is permitted and quite common.  The danger for children comes from users who target minors for this type of activity.  The terms of service do nothing to prevent adult users from creating a child-like avatar and engaging in virtual sexual activity.  In fact, this kind of ‘age play’ is quite common as a role play fantasy.  Technically, all avatars created by adults are adults, but the physical features of a particular avatar can be made to be more child like or more ‘developed’.  It is therefore quite simple to create an avatar that appears as a child, but with a much more physically developed body, or the other way around. 
Because of the problem of adults using Second Life to trade, create, and solicit child pornography, Linden Research has instituted age verification requirements for the use of many areas of its servers.  Some issues have cropped up with regards to the dissemination of personal information in the age verification process, and how difficult it is to actually verfy the information given by the user.  Individual parcels of land owned in the game can also be marked as ‘adults only’, but in many cases, the activities going on in that piece of land can be seen by an outside observer anyway. 
If a user has reason to believe that any character is actually a minor, they may file a complaint with Linden Lab, which results in the immediate suspension of the account in question pending completion of the age verification process.  The suspended user, unfortunately, cannot access the account, and must therefore complete the process via fax, mail or using the customer support section of the website.  A second, sister, website has been developed in response to the problems and criticism that Second Life has received, called Teen Second Life.  This is for users between the ages of 13 and 18, and is designed to be a much safer place than the original Second Life meta world.
Have a great day!