The ‘Shots’ Heard Round the World

who am i online personality second life

Dammit!

I really didn’t want to post anything new until I completed my blog re-design but there is just too much good stuff going on.

Recently, I have been doing a lot of thinking about the intersection of online and offline interactions. A couple days ago an event happened here in DC that simply blew me away. If you have not yet read the Washington City Paper expose on Late Night Shots, you simply must.

Late Night Shots is an invite-only social network that has been covered by the likes of TechCrunch, but is relatively small and un-advanced in stature. What’s really interesting though is its niche. The network is solely intended for the preppy/yuppie crowd who frequent the Georgetown bar scene and thrive on exclusivity. Essentially groups of friends use the internal forums to recount their late night drunken antics, rank each other based on looks and arrange which ‘exclusive’ boozing spot they will party at next. Members can also buy each other drinks, as well as partake in some other marginally ‘innovative’ features. What I really find fascinating about Late Night Shots is that of ANY social network I can think of, NONE comes close to the sense of community and offline interaction of LNS. Plus, the demographic is a marketer’s dream. Say what you want about its purpose or demographic, but LNS works.

However, what the recent article brings to the surface is the major issue of security and privacy between online and offline worlds. As such, this ‘situation’ really should be viewed as a major opportunity to discuss the role of online vs. offline identity. When Washington City Paper reporter Angela Valdez decided to ‘out’ the exclusive preppies by ‘naming names’ she trashed the reputations of several young people who I believe are probably not as bad as their online personas might suggest. Angela’s ‘real world’ outing has had major real-world consequences – one LNSer has supposedly lost their job already. But, if Angela is a member of the LNS (i.e. created a profile) she most likely agreed to the Company’s privacy policy. Do most privacy policies not address the public naming of members? If there had been such a policy in place, then would Angela or The City Paper be ‘libel?’

A key difference, between online/offline interaction on a network like SecondLife vs. LNS in that in a ‘virtual world,’ your online persona is not tied to a real person. It’s more like fiction ‘“ isn’t it? In other words, if you are named Jake Johnson on Late Night Shots, online you can act as ‘unlike your real-self’ as you want to, but due to the real-world, offline interactions, this lie will eventually catch-up to you. For example, ‘Jake’ may come across as super aggressive ‘“ an uber womanizer on LNS. But, if at the actual bar Jake is super shy and scarred as heck to approach girls, well he’s going to be outed. Are these two versions of Jake really the same guy? Should each be held to the same standards? Or does what happened in Vegas, truly stay in Vegas?

Does this mean that on SecondLife you can be whomever you want to be, without any consequence? What if your online character is conducting illegal activities in Second Life? As a hypothetical, if a newspaper reporter outed a middle age CEO whose avatar (online persona) is having sex with hookers, would that be enough to force the CEO’s resignation?

I think the Washington City Paper article is sooooo interesting. In particular, it’s important to remember that as funny or unfortunate as all this tabloid-ish gossiping is, there are very real consequences that are starting to come about as a result of online communities, social networks and virtual worlds. These are issues that won’t be disappearing anytime soon. In the very near future, we as a society will need to make some very large decisions. Can anyone out there help me make sense of all this?

As an aside to my analysis, be sure to read the comments as well as the hilarious write-ups on Wonkette for some good laughs.

Disclosure: By conventional standards I consider myself ‘preppy.’ However, I am not currently a member of LNS, nor am I ‘on the list’ at Smith Point. Judge me if you must.

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UPDATE:

The founder of LNS contacted me to correct an error. To his knowledge, no one cited in the article has lost a job over this incident.

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