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Often in the heat of battle, someone will make a threat to inflict serious bodily harm upon the other party. Just as with a LegalThreat, most such online threats are not serious, and comparatively few people suffer serious bodily harm, rape, death, etc, following such a threat.

Again, as with most legal threats, the real intent is to voice some conspicuous form of anger towards the other person. At the most extreme end, this is a death threat, like "I'm going to kill you, mofo!" or a more insidious one where the person explains in detail how it is possible for them to do this, "I know you live at <address>, I know you do <behaviour>. I will follow you and garrotte you when you least expect it".

It takes a fair degree of sanity to separate real threats from false ones, and more importantly, real threats from those you construct yourself. Often people spin ambiguous or political statements that, to some range of readers, appears threatening mostly because they have already chosen to railroad the speaker. To a randomly chosen sample of readers, however, it reads just like an ambiguous or political statement.

It is related to GroupThink and JugglingMisrepresentations?, and is usually deliberately employed to bolster a PowerStructure?.

If there is some desire to label or control whoever uttered the statement, then it may be called a "Death Threat", which is a label that gives the reader power over the author - the power to "report them as terrorists" or something. Then, if others repeat this misrepresentation, as they will if they share some bias or goal with the first to call it a "death threat", the end result is a "spun" belief that the original comment was, unambiguously, threatening and dangerous.

Often TheCollective may DemandApology for its own discomfort, which was actually created by the community itself! Such an apology is of course submitting to that collective as an arbiter in such cases, which may be morally impossible, or just stupid, if this would encourage such "spin" in the future.

It is generally a bad idea to reward those who apply racism or paranoia to ambiguous statements and conclude they are "Death Threats", with such status builders as public apologies, freely given retractions, etc. DefendAgainstParanoia. If insincere they decrease all trust in written statements in that context. If sincere, they reward the worst possible social behaviour, that which creates GroupThink.


There is a special case where the DeathThreat is not issued to the person's bodily persona, but the avatar or representation of that person in CyberSpace, or against their LifeInText. In this case the DeathThreat isn't "I'm going to kill you," but "I'm going to kick you out of this space." MrBungle demonstrated a "rape in cyberspace" in this way. There was no physical rape, and many people on LambdaMOO suggested that the victim not take it seriously, the issue at heart was the emotional dependency the victim had on interacting with LambdaMOO. The attack was on this emotional system, and therefore perceived as a "rape" which was a word chosen for lack of a better one available [There was a perfectly appropriate term, see counter-counter-argument below.]. Perhaps that was a bit of RepresentationConfusion, but within the closed domain of LambdaMOO, the reactions were equally metaphorical. HardBanning MrBungle's was not a real CommunityExile or imprisonment in the sense that it disrupted his life at any greater level than it disrupted the victim's.

Counter-argument: virtual worlds operate by willing suspension of disbelief. Speech acts are very "real" there, although undeniably different than physical acts. It is similar to the difference in the physical world between a thread of violence and violence itself; the latter is certainly worse, but one cannot dismiss the former as unreal and unimportant. It can have a very strong negative effect on its victims.

Those who dismiss virtual worlds and actions performed there out of hand are simply outsiders who do not understand the phenomenon. Perhaps it would help to recall that many real-world marriages originated in virtual worlds; this is not always just a matter of meaningless play-acting.

And by the way, virtual rapes occurred in virtual communities other than LambdaMOO; that just happens to have been the one that became infamous in the media (starting with the VillageVoice?, IIRC). They were usually a serious crisis in the community.

[Counter-counter-argument by somebody who was there during the MrBungle mess. There was a perfectly good phrase to describe what MrBungle did, "sexual harassment". Those who dismiss virtual worlds and actions performed there out of hand are idiots, pure and simple. People are people, communication is communication, and emotions are emotions. Emotions matter; having the conversation in a virtual chat system doesn't change that. That aside, however, rape is a physical act. Applying a term for intimate physical assault, "rape", to virtually-mediated sexual harassment is ridiculous on its face and probably offensive to anybody who's been raped.]

(The VoiceOfExperience?) Well, it needn't be anonymous; that was me, back in Feb 2004, speaking on the basis of my involvement with muds circa 1990, I think. Only a little with LambdaMOO, but a lot on a somewhat less famous social mud, DragonMud? (not the gaming one, the other one), where I was and am a "wizard" (admin), albeit mostly inactive these days. -- DougMerrit?

See also ScopeLimits?



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