Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Trust in Second Life

To be trusted is a greater compliment than to be loved.

George MacDonald 

          In Second Life (SL) as in Real Life (RL), we meet people and we have dealings with them.  But, for anything beyond simple greetings or rudimentary dealings, there needs to be a basis for a relationship whether that be simply friendship, romantic, or commercial.  This basis, in my mind, is trust.  Or, how willing are we to confide in someone else?  That they won’t betray, humiliate, or steal from us?
          For me, there are three fundamental questions about trust in SL.  First, what is trust?  Next, can we really trust anyone in SL?  Finally, is trust even necessary in SL?
          Let’s start with “What is trust?”  In RL, why do we trust others?  For safety, peace of mind, companionship, the ability to operate beyond our immediate span of control because we know we have the support of others are a few obvious reaons.  How about this, we want to know that we won’t get a sexually transmitted disease from our partner, that the father of our children isn’t running about spreading his seed to all and sundry with the consequences appearing nine months later.  (Really messes up providing for your own family to say nothing of estate planning.) 
          There are probably other reasons but you get the gist of what I’m saying, trust is all about knowing you can rely on someone for mutual benefit.  (I must sound terribly cynical, huh?)
          Now, the next question, “Can we really trust anyone in SL?”  Hmm.  Let’s see, for  the most part, we use fictitious names and identities.  Many people aren’t even the same gender as they are in RL.  (I’ve seen some stories that claim most female avatars in SL are really men.)  Then there are the avatars that aren’t even human. 
          See where I’m going here?  In RL, trust typically entails a relationship between two or more people where confidences are shared and there’s a level of emotional, if not physical intimacy.  What basis can there be for trust when everything is fictitious?  (Some might argue that much RL trust is based on fiction too so what am I getting all bothered about?  I’ll leave that one for Dr.  Phil.)
           Finally, is trust even necessary in SL?
          Trust in RL is all about protecting oneself from catastrophic harm either physical or emotional.  What’s the worst that can happen in SL?  We can always come back as an alt if need be.  Even if collared, an avatar can just log out and come back in.
          Now, as my friend, Lindal Kidd, pointed out recently in her blog, some SL residents swap passwords with partners.  This is definitely not a best practice and neither Lindal or I recommend doing this.  Some serious losses including RL financial ones can result from this.  But, here, SL is merging with RL and I’m avoiding that one for now.
          Likewise, voice, Skype, and RL pictures blur SL and RL when residents step off the Grid and this is definitely beyond my pay grade to sort out.  (Significant Other already thinks I’m dangerously close to going over the edge there as it is.) 
          Myself, I’d like to believe in trust in SL.  There’s something to be said for taking another person at their word even if I don’t know who they are.  There’s an old political saying that says the only way to know if you can trust someone is to trust them.  (Yes, maybe as President Reagan, once said, “Trust but verify.”)  
          Yes, I won’t be sharing my passwords with anyone soon but that doesn’t mean I can’t take people at face value and I want people inworld to know that my word is my bond because, if not, I’m going to have a hard time blogging about life in SL.    
          I can also say that I haven’t met anyone inworld yet who has broken trust with me.  (Please don’t take this as an invitation to drop by and do so.)
          I’d be very interested in others’ thoughts and experiences with trust in SL.  Please use my contact info below to reach me.            
          As always, I’m grateful to all for their kindness and time in stopping to talk with a stranger who was passing through their lives.
I welcome feedback from readers, please either comment on my blog or e-mail me at . 

          If you would like to read about my other adventures in Second Life
please click here.


Lindal Kidd said...

In my Avatar Safety class, I point out that there are two levels of hazards in Second Life, practical jokes and true dangers. You point out an example of the first one...something "physical" done to your avatar. A deformer, an RLV trap, and so on.

The other dangers are more subtle, but more serious. Phishing scams, duplicitous business partners, copybotters, and emotional nightmares caused by people who like playing head games.

And you are right that the only way to find out if someone is trustworthy is to trust them. But there are levels and degrees of trust, and I would be very cautious about trusting someone too far until I had known them a long time.

I would make one final helps if you yourself are a trustworthy person.

Tali said...

It seems to me there is another layer where some people get a kick out of a certain level of betrayal and backstabbing, often in connection with various love triangles (and other polygons), and interestingly including being the aggrieved party.
-Essentially, why watch a soap when you can *act* it?
It's a form of roleplaying which I am not sure people are always even conscious about doing.

webspelunker said...


TYVM for reading and posting! You make great points. I'll try to write more about these in the future.



webspelunker said...


Many thanks for your comment! I wonder if this type of behavior is more akin to sado-masochism?



Tali Rosca said...

I don't think it goes as far as that.
I think it is more a desire to experience some drama - in the actual dramatic narrative sense.
A somewhat similar thing is how people *love* to "defend" against griefers. Warnings go out to near and far, people do pre-emptive patrols, and generally feel really important and decisive.
Obviously, this doesn't have anything to do with (breaking) trust as such, but I think it comes from the same desire to be part of something extraordinary, be that heroic defender or heart-wrenching dramatic actor.

webspelunker said...


I like your comparison with the anti-griefer patrols. There is definitely something about wanting to belong and looking for it in SL when it can't be found in RL.



Anonymous said...

I am not clever enough to be a good liar. Getting involved w drama is too complicated for me. And I lack the mean spirit to hurt others. Instead, I try to treat others with integrity, respect and kindness, because you never know what scars they carry in RL. However, there are those who will try to take advantage of me. Those who mistake kindness for weakness, and mistake honesty for stupidity, those people quickly discover that they are fools. ~Starla Farella

Suz Blessed said...

Do you know all those people who write in their profile : 'There is a real person behind this avatar'.
Well my experience is that those people are the once you cannot trust at all. They are the drama makers in my eyes. It never even crossed my mind to put something in my profile like that. And all those people who save all im's ( just in case, lol) and then when the time is right drop those in front of you or even worse in other peoples boxes. I have nothing to hide, i am who i am and a promise is a promise and for some weird reason i expect others to be the same. How naive :(
Been lied to, been backstabbed my account hacked and all by people i thought i could trust.
So do i trust people in virtual worlds? No, not really after 9 years i learned my lesson. Only a few exceptions in my case, people i also met in rl. The moment people refuse to talk in voice they probably have something to warned.

Caroline Resident said...

Hi Webby

interesting article.

In Second Life you need to use some common sense to protect yourself. You don't switch passwords and you perform the same due diligence when having commercial dealings as you would in real life to protect yourself from betrayal, fraud and theft!

Where real money is involved, a certain level of protection and trust is appropriate if not necessary.


When it comes to "who you are or what you are" - things are different.

"Your world, your imagination", is the slogan of Second Life. Essentially that means, we can create a world the way we want that world to be.

It also means we can "be" who we want to be. This includes gender, profession, outfit, behaviour and even personality. Once you have honestly and profoundly accepted this to be ever residents basic right (even protected by the TOS), once you have accepted this to be the actual essence of a virtual world and once you grant this right to everybody in Second Life, its then when you wont feel betrayed any longer when you meet somebody who is not what he/she is in RL.

Virtual identities are often more honest,more real than who we are or pretend to be in RL. Sounds crazy?

Think about it. There are parts of our inner self, we constantly hide from people in RL because of social, professional or other restrictions in Real Life, or just because of our own inhibitions.

In Second Life however, you have not only the chance, but the right to actually act out those aspects of your personality without having to fear potential negative effects on your life.

In fact:

Most of us hide more in RL than we do in SL. Does your boss know who you really are and what your true dream profession actually is? How do you dress for work and is it really what you love to wear?

Do your friends know all aspects of your personality? Do your neighbors know your sexual preferences?

Have you revealed all your sexual fantasies to your partner?

Think about it.

Caroline Resident