A lesson for Twitter? How a rape in cyberspace changed a virtual community in 1993

mytinylifeThe Guardian asks today How prevalent is online abuse? I’d suggest it’s been around ever since people started to use the internet to communicate, and the issue of how such threats work in virtual space has provoked a great deal of discussion. One of the earliest examples, and worth re-reading in the light of recent unpleasant threats to Caroline Criado-Perez and others, is the story of How an Evil Clown, a Haitian Trickster Spirit, Two Wizards, and a Cast of Dozens Turned a Database Into a Society, more popularly known as A Rape in Cyberspace and discussed in a 1993 piece in the Village Voice by Julian Dibbell, which was later the centrepiece of his book My Tiny Life. Dibbell tells the intriguing story of how one person’s antisocial behaviour led one of the very first virtual communities, LambdaMOO, to establish some baseline rules for civil society in a virtual space. The issues they dealt with and the way philosophy and ethics quickly became integral to a place which hitherto had been an anarchic play space are not dissimilar to problems arising today. Definitely worth revisiting even twenty years after the original debacle.

 

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