Social Control

Social control is the organized way in which society gets people to behave. We all engage in social control every day in our real lives, so it only makes sense that social control would exist in Second LIfe. When people gossip, make rude remarks about one's dress or behavior, ostracize, ban, laugh at, and sometimes blog about or "FUG," they're engaging in social control.

Second Life doesn't have a police force as we know it. The only form of law that exists are the terms of service, and the rules there are relatively sparse considering the size and complexity of the society. That leaves much of the development and enforcement of social norms up to the residents.

Because of the anonymity, the basic rules of RL society are easily ignored. People can go around in SL doing things they never would have dreamed of doing in RL (like wearing crazy checkered gowns and top hats), and the sanctions, if there are any, only exist within a virtual world. Rarely is it even possible for them to spill out into RL where they tend to be limited to violations of copyright laws or fraud. Even prostitution is open in the virtual world, and people are free to walk around wearing labels proclaiming their availability. Because no actual RL sex occurs, the criminal laws do not apply.

An excellent example of social control within the virtual world is the blog, "What the Fug." In this blog, writers and contributers snap screenshots of avatars who they feel violate general norms about fashion or behavior. Both within the blog and the Flickr photostream, contributers express their disapproval of things like "prim boobs," oiled up skin, public nudity, and ill-fitting clothing items. Behavior is also subject to condemnation, especially "stripper AOs" and public expressions of slavery. Some people do feel the pressure to conform that exists because of this blog and photostream while others fight against the social controls (it's actually a form of what's called tertiary deviance). The degree to which one's self concept is tied to their avatar's appearance would seem to be an important factor in the effectiveness of this form of social control.

Interestingly, in the Second Life world, being a "noob" or displaying characteristics of newness in the virtual world is also sanctioned. Not having a realistic skin, prim hair, or prim shoes can result in punishment, especially if the avatar is more than a few months old. Second life seems to be unforgiving of newness in a way that we would never see with tourists in RL. There is, even at some level, a sense of fear (there are sims that won't even allow avatars less than 30 days old). That probably represents the development of a community at least on some level. Throughout history, it is common for close knit communities to be extremely suspicious of strangers.

Social control is one of those emergent properties of human interaction. Virtual worlds are no different. Social control draws people together, creates a sense of belonging, and paves the way for innovation. If people aren't willing to violate the rules, they never change. It's simply part of the developmental process of creating a society. Good or bad, it's here to stay.

Style Notes:
Outfit - Race Day by Cat Tracks
Hair - Word Multi by Magika
Skin - Retro Pinup Beach Bridgett by Frick
Pose by Ray Skin


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