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Worlds Chat Tips and What to do About Those Nasty Avapunks

Figure 5.44: wc6b.jpg

Figure 5.45

Be kind to human guests and to penguins!

Dangers on board

Worlds Chat, like any open social setting, on the Internet or in real life, can fall prey to people with bad intentions. You can encounter people who use coarse or offensive language, or SHOUT (typing in uppercase), but they are almost always the exception. How best to handle these avapunks? It is a good rule of thumb to ask them politely to stop, walk away if they donít, and if they follow, take it as a game, try to lose them in the hallways of Worlds Chat. If they keep after you, and it really bothers you, exit Worlds Chat and come back in later. Chances are you will not see the same abuser more than once.

Community to the rescue

I have seen time and time again how the community of avatars responds to stop what they see as unacceptable behavior. Avatars will crowd around a misbehaving member and ask that person to stop what they are doing.

In the early days of Worlds Chat, in May 1995, I was in the hub when there was an avatar which was simply not moving and communicating. People gathered their avatars around her, some saying, ìI think sheís a bot,î (a robot) while others disagreed. In truth, this person could have been away from her computer or perhaps Worlds Chat had crashed and left her avatar hanging. Suddenly an aggressive avatar rushed over and started to pass back and forth through the disabled avatar. In Worlds Chat, you can pass through other peopleís avatars. This is not considered rude if you do it by accident or quickly, making sure you are not blocking a conversation. However, this kind of avatar abuse (also called avabuse or avattack) was different. Seeing this, the other users became very defensive, saying, ìHey you, you canít do that, that avatar belongs to a person, stop!î It was a fascinating insightÖif an object is associated with, or somehow embodies a person in our minds, we treat it differently.

Donít worry, no one can kill your avatar, and you cannot be excluded from Worlds Chat by anyone (no, this is not Doom).

Figure 5.45: wc6d.jpg

Someone just had to say mute.

Harassment in Worlds Chat (or when chat turns ugly)

Terry-NZ recently contributed this piece on harassment in Worlds Chat. You can find it at Stingís Place on the Web at I have modified it slightly for length and accuracy to the current version of Worlds Chat.

As those of us who live there (well, spend most of our waking hours there) know, Worlds Chat is great place to socialize. Chatting can take many forms, ranging from humorous social banter to deep philosophical discussions. Intimate relationships can even develop, from a one-night stand of cybersex (wow!), to more serious and long-standing affairs.

Being an anonymous forum, Worlds Chat provides an opportunity to take on an alter-ego, and perhaps try things which the constraints of the real world would not allow. However, like the real world, there are certain patterns of behavior which are clearly anti-social and unacceptable. While such activities are uncommon at present, occasionally a small minority can inflict its ugly brand of humor on other users. It's possible that if these forms of behavior become common in chat, then many people may simply stop visiting. In a worst-case scenario Worlds Chat could become like some of the darker areas of the worldís major cities...a hostile environment, visited only by roaming gangs of cyberpunks.

Cyberspace is often thought of as an equalizer, giving the powerful and the weak an equal voice. You can give 'em as much as you get, so to speak. Some virtual worlds, like chat rooms, have moderators, who can identify those users they feel are not meeting the community standards. Moderators can identify those users by their e-mail addresses or registration numbers and throw them off the chat channels. Worlds Chat is unmoderated, containing none of these mechanisms, so here it is all up to the community.

From time to time, any of us may experience an unpleasant time in Worlds Chat for a number of reasons. It could occur if you reject a proposal for cybersex (especially if you are female), and the proposer takes exception to the refusal. It could occur if you have won an argument, or if you've asked someone to stop acting like a jerk. It could happen simply because you are female (or at least have a female avatar).

Forms of harassment

Harassment seems to take three forms. These are listed in order of increasing seriousness.

1. Abuse

Aggressive, obscene whispers, perhaps combined with the continual presence of the offenderís avatar...usually right in front of your face! As you can't kick them in the you know where, the best policy may be to ignore them until they go away. They will soon tire of the game.

2. Shutting down your system

This can occur if the offender whispers many single letters or words to you repeatedly, in rapid succession. It certainly prevents you from talking to others, and if you have a minimum system (8MB), may even shut you down completely. A very vicious form of this can involve two people, where one sends the whispers while the other publicly denigrates you. Of course, you are unable to refute what is being said.

The best solution is to use the mute function to turn off the words from the offender, or whisper to your friends about what happened and let the offenders have it publicly before they can shut you up again. Hopefully, your friends will support you with this.

3. Logging on at a later date as you…impersonation

This can be one of the most vindictive and malicious acts. Here, the offender takes your name and avatar, and visits people you know, gossiping and generally causing trouble. Often it's obvious to your friends that it's definitely not you, but sometimes the offender can be very subtle. They may even accuse their victim of harassment just to watch the fun. Having your own custom avatar may not be any guarantee of security either. It should be easy enough to take a screen dump of someone's avatar, and construct an identical one, which the offender then could use. Some may go to such lengths to pay you back for a perceived humiliation.

Reducing the risk

Nothing can be done to stop people from masquerading as you if they want to, but there are some ways to lessen the risk.

Of course, people may use your avatar and name quite innocently especially, if the latter is common. Having a public female avatar with the a common name like Rebecca for example, is hardly going to be unique.

Worlds Chat Inc. is a free, anonymous, unmoderated venue. This is both its strength and weakness. It means we must all be responsible for moderating our own behavior and any anti-social behavior in others. In this way, we'll all enjoy the party!

Thanks for that, Terry!

© Copyright Bruce Damer, 1997, All rights reserved.