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Second Life Users Are Protesting With Their Avatars

The resistance is rising, even in virtual worlds.

Even in computer-generated realities, the resistance is rising. With "Avatars Against Trump," members of massive multiplayer online communities are coming together to express their frustrations and solidarity about the new presidential administration's incendiary policies.

Wagner James Au, a virtual worlds blogger and author, told Motherboard that he'd casually mentioned an anti-Trump meme idea to fellow Second Lifers Strawberry Singh and Cajsa. Together, they started the Flickr group to gather protest avatars and machinima. It's open to any MMO game or VR platform with user-generated content, including Second Life, Minecraft, The Sims, and Tilt Brush.

Second Life developer Linden Labs joined many other tech-industry leaders in denouncing the president's executive order banning travel from seven predominantly Muslim countries in a public statement on Thursday, saying the company is "extremely disappointed in and adamantly opposed to Trump's recent executive order on immigration. We reject racism, intolerance, and xenophobia."

Image: Strawberry Singh

Singh, a Muslim-American who blogs about avatar fashion interspersed with her political views, her culture, and activism under her Second Life pseudonym, tells me she was hesitant to co-found the Avatars Against Trump project.

"I've already been getting quite a lot of trolls trying to look for ways to paint me with a negative brush," she said. "I just didn't have the energy to fight them online anymore."

Au encouraged her to use her fundraising influence—a recent Second Life fundraiser generated $4,000 in two weeks for organizations including Planned Parenthood and the Trevor Project—and she decided to help start this effort.

"I can't let the terrorists win, as the saying goes, right?" she said.

The 'safety net' of anonymity she uses on her blog and in the virtual world allow her to be open about her beliefs. Whenever she writes about charities, causes, or Muslim holidays, people inevitably fill her comment sections with hate speech.

"If I was blogging and posting with my real name, I might get people trying to find out who I am and possibly show up at my front door or send me death threats. I have read a lot about bloggers and reporters who have had to put up with a lot of that online."

Flickr streams are a preferred creative outlet for Second Life users. Since it's technically taxing to render more than a hundred avatars in any one space in most multiplayer worlds, there won't be a Million Avatar March in Second Life or Minecraft, for example, but Flickr groups can grow huge followings—there are hundreds of groups for Second Life users, some of the largest with tens of thousands of members and hundreds of thousands of images—and are easily accessible to the "outside" world, even if you don't play.

But in-world, aside from gathering sizes that crush the server, the interactions players have with each other are without boundaries. Second Life is a 14 year old virtual world that still has little competition in terms of sheer vastness of user-generated experiences, with nearly a million people logging on every month. There's literally something for everyone: sex dungeons, campaign headquarters for Donald Trump and Bernie Sanders, and communities that aim to impact the world outside of their computers.

"Virtual communities help us escape the boundaries of geography, location, disability...  and any of us can login and do our part," Singh said.

Au calls this the benefit of a "third space," or the intersection of every flavor of person in one accessible, virtual environment.

"Players from big liberal cities bump up with players with right wing rural areas, people of different races and economic levels create close ties—not just from the US but all over the world," Au said. "That opens up the chance to break through the echo chambers that social media and real world social pressure create—and that can help lead to changing outlooks on real world issues."