Tuesday, April 24, 2007

Second Life Professionals: Just Fun or Real Fraud?

Anyone who has explored much of Second Life has noted that there are many “professionals” offering services in the world. From psychiatrists to lawyers, they are all present in Second Life. However, with the proliferation of Second Life residents and resident professionals, an interesting issue arises: Does real life accreditation, training and experience matter in Second Life? More importantly, should it?

Anyone can go into the virtual realm and claim to be just about anything. If someone is using their real name, it’s generally easy enough to see if they’re really a member of a state bar or graduate of the university they claim. With a pseudonym, it becomes much less likely to track them down. So, if I or anyone else decides to begin their Second Life as a professional, should their credentials be subject to some sort of actual verification?

Much of the outcome will depend on any future outcry from the residents. If there is some scandal, that outcry is likely to follow. However, in the meantime, I think it is important to examine the issue and perhaps get residents to voice their opinion on the matter to avoid an actual scandal. Just as an example, I am going to explore two very different professions, psychologists and attorneys, and how their lack of education may impact Second Life and its residents.


A psychologist’s key role in Second Life would be someone to talk to, much like a real life psychologist. From this basic level, there seems to be little harm in allowing anyone to open up a psychologist’s office in Second Life. However, if the psychologist goes beyond mere talking, to actually claiming to diagnose disorders, the ramifications could be much greater, especially if the diagnosis is incorrect, given by an unlicensed pseudo-professional, and taken at face value. While it may seem far fetched that anyone would take a diagnosis given in Second Life seriously, if someone has a serious mental issue, it could easily happen.


Attorneys in Second Life could serve two functions: dealing with in-game issues and dealing with real life issues. Both of these could be a potential nightmare if an unlicensed pseudo-professional is involved. As with all professions, there are a large number of untrained, armchair lawyers, many of whom spend hours a day attempting to argue legal points on message boards across the internet. Some are better at these arguments than others, and like so many topics, many are completely out of touch with the reality of the legal situation.

Dealing with in-game issues is one real where an unlicensed person may have enough knowledge to operate without detriment, for example in resolving in-game disputes. After all, real life mediators and arbiters do not need to be attorneys in many states. However, in the in-game realm, there are issues that could spill over into the real world realm that do need competent legal advice, for example license or customer agreements. Since Second Life residents retain the rights to the things they create, many of them have license agreements, and firms in Second Life do offer agreement reviews (see here). Reviews of or drafts of binding legal documents done by armchair lawyers could have detrimental effects should there ever be a client.

More problematic would be the offering of legal advice applicable to the real world entirely. Every state has some sort of criminal penalty for the unauthorized practice of law, and for good reason. The practice of law is a difficult profession that requires training to properly research and analyze legal issues thoroughly. Finding a quick answer on Google or Wikipedia is generally not sufficient, and legal advice at that level, when represented as complete and accurate, can lead people to make the wrong decision. Moreover, as laws vary by jurisdiction, advice from a lawyer in Texas about Texas law likely won’t apply to someone in Iowa under Iowa law, for example. Thus, even a credentialed person could communicate incorrect advice if there is an ambiguity as to something like jurisdiction.


Psychologists and Attorneys are just two groups of professionals who could and do appear in Second Life. Accountants, Doctors, and countless other groups could appear, each with their own respective dilemmas involving the practice of their profession in their Second Life. Moreover, for each group, the potential for fraud varies and the risk of the results of the fraud varies. I would hope that anyone seeking professional services in Second Life takes anything they receive with a grain of salt. However, should there be an increase in the number of actual and supposed professionals offering services in Second Life, some sort of credential verification should likely be implemented.

1 comment:

Thomas said...

What are the rules regarding "regular" online legal advice and psychologists? Are there online psychology sites where people can chat with someone and be diagnosed? I imagine that the rules that govern the web will probably extend into something like Second Life except in the circumstances where Second Life property is concerned. Would that be governed by the ToS from Second Life?

I'm a layman regarding law and I've never played Second Life so if anybody could ever be said to be talking out of their ass, it's me now.