Digital People and Anonymous Avatars by Extropia DaSilva

This time, we get a short essay from Extropia DaSilva… but one that is quite close to my heart 🙂 Enjoy! — Gwyn

“Trussssst in me/ Jusssst in me”- Ka from Disney’s ‘Jungle Book’.

When H+ Magazine published Stephen Cobb’s article ‘Real Discrimination Against Digital People’, someone wrote the following response:

‘I fully respect online personas, but expecting me to implicitly trust anonymous avatars is pushing it’.

Many people seem to think that ‘digital people’ and ‘anonymous avatars’ are one and the same thing. But this is just not true.

An anonymous avatar is one that A) carries no real life identification and B) has built up no in-world reputation.

In stark contrast, a digital person is somebody that HAS built up an inworld reputation. A digital person considers his or her identity to come entirely from how he or she is perceived by the online communities they are a part of. From this fact, we can take the logical step to the assertion that a digital person wants to become as familiar a figure in their online communities as possible. After all, the more people become familiar with the name and personality of ’Extropia DaSilva,’ the more ‘real’ that digital person becomes. We can also logically assume that a digital person seeks not just wide familiarity, but a POSITIVE reputation within online communities. This is because if you gain a BAD reputation, you increase your chances of being ejected. For a digital person, having your account suspended or cancelled is almost a fate worse than death!

This obviously sets them apart from griefers. Those are people who want a BAD reputation, and who use THROWAWAY IDENTITIES. They do not care for the reputation of any one avatar, because they can always set up another freebie account if the current one is cancelled. ONTH a digital person most definitely does NOT consider their avatar’s identity to be a throwaway commodity. No, it is something that should be developed and enhanced for an indefinitely long time.

So, a digital person cares about positive online reputation, probably more than any other kind of resident you come across in Second Life. It is therefore quite wrong to describe a digital person as ‘anonymous’. ‘Scope Cleaver’ is by no means anonymous within Second Life. He is very well known for his skills in architecture, and has a very positive reputation as somebody who can be relied on to produce the work he is being paid for. Much the same can be said of Gwyn. I should point out that she does not consider herself to be a digital person, but the comparisons are obvious: Gwyneth Llewelyn A) does not go around divulging RL identification and B) has taken the effort to build up a positive, and exclusively online-based, reputation. So she is very much like a digital person.

One thing that always comes up in regards to digital people is the question of ‘trust’, particularly when money is involved. For instance, somebody wrote, ‘when people want to validate your identity, they aren’t just asking you to prove you are the person they are communicating with- they are asking for an identity that is based on the real world: That you are a physically verifiable and reachable being’.

But since we are talking about trust, we should ask: What is harder to fake? RL identification, or a positive inworld reputation?

The fact is, the former is not all that hard to fake. The Web unfortunately is home to a large and well organized black market that deals in stolen or fake identities. Such websites can provide credit cards and anything else you need, all of which looks completely convincing to all but the most pathologically untrusting. You might be forgiven for thinking a forged RL identity costs a lot of money, but actually such things are sold for a modest fee.

But what about faking the kind of recognition and positive standing that a digital person strives to achieve? I am not saying it is impossible to fake the good reputation Scope Cleaver has, but I am quite sure it is very much harder than faking RL identification.

So who should you trust? Some avatar who has what s/he claims is ‘RL identification’? Or a person like Gwyn who is very well known and respected within online communities?

I, for one, know who I would trust MY money withJ.

Sadly, though, the belief that ‘this person provides no RL identity and so is not to be trusted’ is becoming more and more widespread. This makes it more and more difficult for a digital person to begin building up a positive and exclusively online-based reputation. Scope Cleaver can often (but not always) rely on the positive responses of past clients as all the guarantee he needs to secure a contract. But, what if he were just starting out, therefore had no inworld reputation to speak of, and he refused to divulge any RL identification? I do not think he would get very far. I guess Scope, Gwyn and I were fortunate to come to Second Life while it was still very much an immersionist online world, one where you could develop a good standing in the community without needing to be tied to a RL identity. Sadly, unless people wake up to the fact that brandishing a RL identity is not, actually, the perfect guarantee of trustworthiness, (and certainly less effective than a firm and good standing within online communities), new residents may never again have the opportunity to acquire the firm and positive reputations that digital people consider essential to their inworld persona.

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