The Development and Failure of Social Norms in Second Life

By Stoup, Phillip | Duke Law Journal, November 2008 | Go to article overview
Save to active project

The Development and Failure of Social Norms in Second Life

Stoup, Phillip, Duke Law Journal


This Note analyzes the development and efficacy of social norms in maximizing the welfare of participants in the virtual community of Second Life. Although some of these norms developed appropriately in response to the objectives and purposes of this virtual world, Second Life is so thoroughly steeped in conditions that have impeded the development of successful social norms in other communities that any system of social norms in Second Life will ultimately fail. Because social norms will likely fail to successfully maximize resident welfare, regulatory schemes imposed both by the operators of the virtual world and by real-world governing institutions are needed to enhance the functioning of this particular alternative reality inhabited by millions.


   Beliefs lawyers hold about computers, and predictions they make
   about new technology, are highly likely to be false, This should
   make us hesitate to prescribe legal adaptations for cyberspace. The
   blind are not good trailblazers. (1)

Despite Judge Frank Easterbrook's admonition, for over two decades lawyers and legal scholars have debated the role, presence, and effect of real-world regulations on the internet and property in cyberspace. For ease of understanding, this ongoing debate can be divided into two opposing viewpoints on how real-world legal rules and regulations should affect the internet and virtual property: first, a camp of "exceptionalists" who believe that cyberspace is fundamentally distinct from the real world and thus should be subject to a different set of rules, and second, a camp of "unexceptionalists" who believe that cyberspace is no different from the real world and should be governed by the same regulations."

Out of this debate between the exceptionalists and the unexceptionalists emerged a middle ground: the theory of "Code is Law" recognizes both the validity of cyberspace as a distinct world regulated by the computer code that defines it, (3) and the theory acknowledges a need for some level of real-world regulations to protect the virtual world from infractions its regulating computer code cannot prevent. (4) This theory, formulated primarily by Professor Lawrence Lessig, can be further illustrated by analogizing the balance between computer code and real-world law to a farmer installing fences around a field. (5) There, the fencing operates like the computer code: it stops potential intruders from accessing the farmer's land by making access to the land impossible where the fence bars the way. Like computer code that can be hacked or manipulated, however, a trespasser can climb over the fence or cut through its barbed wire. Therefore, society needs laws and rules like the tort of trespass to protect further the farmer's land when the fence fails. (6) In cyberspace this interplay between computer code-created rules and real-world regulation presents two questions, which are further explored in this Note. First, if there is to be a mix between code-created rules and real-world regulations, what is the optimal combination? And second, if code-created rules are to at least partially govern the internet and cyberspace, who is best positioned to create these new governing laws? (7)

The optimal mix between code-created rules and real-world regulations could be determined by finding the "mix that provides optimal protection at the lowest cost." s Put differently, the determination of what norms ought to be used in cyberspace should be guided by the consideration of what norms will maximize the participants' welfare. (9) This economic-minded analysis is not a call for a uniform set of norms to be applied to the internet as a whole. (10) Instead, whatever norms that a society employs must necessarily be highly tailored to the context in which they are applied. Therefore, the first step in determining what norms should be used is to ascertain the potential objectives of the cyberspace being regulated.

The rest of this article is only available to active members of Questia

Sign up now for a free, 1-day trial and receive full access to:

  • Questia's entire collection
  • Automatic bibliography creation
  • More helpful research tools like notes, citations, and highlights
  • Ad-free environment

Already a member? Log in now.

Notes for this article

Add a new note
If you are trying to select text to create highlights or citations, remember that you must now click or tap on the first word, and then click or tap on the last word.
Loading One moment ...
Project items
Cite this article

Cited article

Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

Cited article

The Development and Failure of Social Norms in Second Life


Text size Smaller Larger
Search within

Search within this article

Look up

Look up a word

  • Dictionary
  • Thesaurus
Please submit a word or phrase above.
Print this page

Print this page

Why can't I print more than one page at a time?

While we understand printed pages are helpful to our users, this limitation is necessary to help protect our publishers' copyrighted material and prevent its unlawful distribution. We are sorry for any inconvenience.
Full screen

matching results for page

Cited passage

Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

Cited passage

Welcome to the new Questia Reader

The Questia Reader has been updated to provide you with an even better online reading experience.  It is now 100% Responsive, which means you can read our books and articles on any sized device you wish.  All of your favorite tools like notes, highlights, and citations are still here, but the way you select text has been updated to be easier to use, especially on touchscreen devices.  Here's how:

1. Click or tap the first word you want to select.
2. Click or tap the last word you want to select.

OK, got it!

Thanks for trying Questia!

Please continue trying out our research tools, but please note, full functionality is available only to our active members.

Your work will be lost once you leave this Web page.

For full access in an ad-free environment, sign up now for a FREE, 1-day trial.

Already a member? Log in now.

Are you sure you want to delete this highlight?