Revealing our secrets (and gossip) in Second Life

Sharing Second Life Secrets
“Gossip is the opiate of the oppressed”, Erica Jong

Secretly love it or publicly loathe it, SLSecrets has been around since 2008, and if the number of daily posts and comments are any reflection of its popularity, the website shows no signs of losing momentum.

What is most interesting to me about this site is that it started as a forum for people to anonymously share their secrets (like PostSecret) with the wider world. Today, it seems more like a forum for people to anonymous accuse their fellow residents of behaving badly. How did that happen?

According to the website’s About page, the founder of the site (Iris Seale) said she wanted to create a site “like PostSecret, where people send their secrets in on postcards and those cards are published on the web and in books. Many of the things people send in are heartbreaking, uplifting and works of art in their own right. Basically, I wanted to issue the same challenge to the SL community.”

That seems to me like a such a great idea. Many people find relief by sharing secrets, especially anonymously. It’s a risk-free way of being vulnerable, and can be a rehearsal for sharing one’s secrets with whom one cares more deeply about.

I can see that the early archived posts on SLSecret tended to be posted by people interested in sharing secrets about themselves (e.g. “I f*cked my alt and I liked it”, “I love you completely in Second Life but on the phone I hate your voice.”, and “I hate my customers, I hate my friends list, this game sucks since you left, I wish I could stop playing.”).

Slowly and inexorably, the posts then began to take a more other-centred perspective and accusatory tone. Today’s post includes someone dramatically accusing someone else of drama, criticising the creative output of a creator as dull and unimaginative, targeting someone for being an unassailable target, claiming a SL designer copied an RL design whilst posting their copyrighted images on the site, judging someone else for being judgemental, complaining that a certain men’s fashion event is broadening its offerings, and anonymously accusing someone of faking their identity.

Beyond the clear hypocrisy at work in nearly all the above examples, the site’s postings are now probably 80 to 90% negative, and focused on targeting others. The 67 comments (at the time of this posting) that respond to the original postings are either supportive (jumping on the gossip bandwagon) or dismissive (usually calling the original posters or other commenters they disagree with timewasters, low, needing medication, idiots, thieves, stupid, bitter, irrelevant, pointless, scum, and worse…)

The current site administrators have taken a laissez-faire approach to managing the site now:

I hope to keep Iris’s dream alive. I’d really like it if the SL Community stood up and made secrets what it could be. But most people just come for the drama, and I can’t deny that is part of what keeps SLSecret’s highly controversial and what keeps people coming back and reading, even though most people say they don’t.

Personally, I’d just moderate it to align with the original vision, and if I wanted a gossip site I’d start another one to act as a “home to the virtual bitch slap.”

PostSecret, however, remains everything Iris hoped SLSecrets would be. People have submitted over a million postcards with their secrets written on the back – often touchingly illustrated – where they share secrets about themselves. 

What interests me about the SLSecrets website is mainly how it differs from its real life analog. The Second Life version is profoundly other-centred where the real life version is deeply self-centred – where the real life version is used for expressing safe vulnerability, the virtual version is used to primarily to gossip.

Can we then suggest that given the same circumstances and access to tools, virtual world residents engage in more gossip than those who primarily live in the real world?

What might account for the difference? It can’t be anonymity – the posters on both sites are anonymous. It’s not that people might have run out of secrets to share about themselves, the real world version of the site has been around 4 years longer than the Second Life version. Does it say something about residents in a virtual world? Are they perhaps less inclined to reveal secrets about themselves, even anonymously, in comparison to slagging others off for real or perceived infringements on what they consider to be fair in the world? And if that’s true, what does it say about us?

I  can appreciate the inherent benefits of gossip in how it aids in social bonding in groups. A common behaviour in any social group is the forming of alliances. As groups get larger however, it becomes impossible to physically connect with everyone, so we engage in gossip to help members of the group gain information about other members, without individually speaking to them. In this way, we too may stay up to date on what other members of our group are doing. One might argue, that gossip is one of the driving factors behind social networks of any kind – be they digital, or existing offline. Like primates groom each other, we gossip to bond – to create the invisible lines between us and them, so that if we one day may be the target of attack, we might have a ready group of allies to come to our aid.

Gossip also helps us communicate social norms with each other. Because the subject of one’s gossip is usually associated with the appropriateness of their behaviour, by repeating the story, we emphasise its importance to the group. So and so did a bad (or good) thing, I’m going to tell my friend, so that we both can agree that it’s a bad (or good) thing.

As an aside, did you know the most common last name in Second Life was Gossipgirl with over 150,000 residents holding that surname? It was a tie in with the popular tv show about rich New York teenage girls (and boys) who spend most of the show… gossiping.

That being said, I don’t understand why gossip might be more prevalent among virtual world residents than those who live outside of it. In this I’m truly perplexed, and if anyone has a guess or explanation, I’d love to hear it.

I suppose what surprises me most about this, is that it’s so atypical of what I see when the Second Life community is challenged in other ways. We tend to be so altruistic, giving, and generous when it comes to causes outside of ourselves; what’s on display on SLSecrets, however, isn’t something I’d like my community to be recognised for.

Now that I think more of it, perhaps it’s none of these things that explains the differences between PostSecret and SLSecrets. Perhaps it’s just a lack of moderation on the administrators behalf? If so, might there still be an opportunity to create a site with the original intentions behind SLSecrets? Would people use it? Or would they rather just slag someone off because they can?

Thanks to Tessa Grace for writing a post reminding me of this website’s existence, where she shared how she’d not participate in an online community who’s main purpose seems to be to throw one another under the bus.

28 thoughts on “Revealing our secrets (and gossip) in Second Life

    1. A friend mentioned it during one of our chat salons a few weeks back so I had a quick look then. Needless to say, it didn’t appeal to me so I promptly forgot about it. With Tessa’s post today however, I thought I’d take a closer look at the site from a more objective perspective to try to understand why something like this can be so popular. A bit like a riot unfolding on one’s local streets, I don’t feel good looking at it, but I remain very curious as to how it happened.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. I could only read the first reference you showed 332, I think. For some reason the firewall wouldn’t let me go further, I am probably thankful for that. I think we live in a world where political correctness is used when it benefits us and freedom of speech is used when it allows us to feel better about ourselves (by trolling the less fortunate than us. a Let’s get them before they notice us) and somewhere along the way we became so liberal we began to feel it was OK to undermine that which is important to others. Our world has become a sort of Dystopian Lord of the Flies. So sad, our residents feel they have no boundaries of right and wrong and it ruins the experience for so many of us who still respect that boundary. (just my thoughts)

        Liked by 1 person

        1. You mean the first link in my post? I’ve never heard of a 332 http error… that’s weird – maybe it is your firewall that prevents you from visiting it because the site has some pretty foul language on it.

          I agree with your point about the double standard – in psychology, that’s called the self-serving bias – the process where information is distorted to maintain and enhance one’s self esteem. However, this isn’t necessarily new. There’s ample evidence to suggest that gossip is cross-cultural, and has existed since the dawn of the agricultural revolution over 10,000 years ago.

          What has dramatically changed however, is that like all communication (65% of it being about social topics), gossip can spread across thousands in a matter of minutes. Our ability to gossip as fast or as widely as we can today is unparalleled. Thus, we’re often surprised by the consequences of idle talk on social networks which essentially amounts to cyber bullying – which has been shown to lead to extreme emotional distress, even resulting in suicide (i.e. Amanda Todd).

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  1. Ok, I don’t think I want to take credit for sending people to such a horrible site lol… I am glad that you posted the information though because I never knew the real intent of the site. I had been sent there by a few people from facebook about different designers that we blogged for. I hated it. Knowing the real intent though was to tell secrets about yourself, I might have a go at that since it is just me telling something about myself. Here… another secret I did not post about myself… I sometimes have a lack of self confidence and always feel my work is never good enough. Be it good enough for myself or good enough for the designers I blog for. It can be hard to admit things like this in public, but I would certainly rather read that others have little secrets about THEMSELVES to know that we are all human instead of the SL secrets that it has turned into. Great post as always Becky!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Sorry about that, I didn’t mean to imply that you were championing the site at all! I’ll actually change that now so that it’s more clear. 🙂

      Isn’t it interesting to see how the initial intentions behind an online community (which, let’s face it, SLSecrets is) can be morphed by its users to change so completely? I suppose it’s all in how one interprets the word “secret”.

      Since you’ve shared a secret, I’ll do the same:

      I sometimes think I come across as a blowhard know-it-all, self-promotional blogger, because I tend to write posts that are so damned serious, and often about my own activities instead of the accomplishment of others. I’ll even go out of my way to write fun and frivolous posts to balance the scales; but after editing, even those end up sounding (to me) boastful, pompous and typically over-serious.

      Feels good to share, doesn’t it? Thanks for the doing so Tessa 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Thought-provoking post as always, Becky. I’ve never been to SLSecrets, but I wonder if some of the difference you mention between the content there and on PostSecret comes down to the nature of SL anonymity vs. anonymity for people without virtual lives.

    PostSecret caught on because people wanted to share the secrets that were haunting them in a public forum — often in a carefully-crafted way — without risk of that connecting to their offline identity. In SL we have anonymity by default and only give it up by choice. If you want to run from sim to sim shouting your deepest secrets, you can. Many of us have discovered the intimacy of conversations that are unburdened by many details of the outside world. If I want to confess that I used to feed my cousin dog biscuits and tell him they were cookies (I don’t regret a single crunch), I can do that anywhere in SL. So, what secrets are left to tell? The gossipy things that you might not want to spread inside your SL friend/work group but really really want to reveal, or nastiness about that jerk who did that thing, or crabbing that would get you banned from forums. Once that became the dominant tone, and there was clearly a niche that desired to share and to read those items, I think it would be hard to go back.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. That’s an intriguing perspective that I hadn’t thought of, Kay. And yes, I also agree with the “dominant tone” argument, and the fact that a niche most certainly exists for this type of thing. An unusual aspect of SLSecret posting / commenting too, is that it isn’t even associated with Second Life pseudonyms (like our WordPress comments) – creating an even deeper level of anonymity.

      I’d (tentatively) argue however, that people that browse the PostSecret site also have anonymity by default (as any website visitor does, whether they have a virtual life or not), wouldn’t you agree?

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      1. Yes, the PS folks have anonymity on that site, but what they may lack is a somewhat social anonymous life. To reveal a secret requires someone to hear it, even if through the “message in a bottle” style of PostSecret. PostSecret isn’t the only place where this sort of disclosure occurs but it offers a deeper anonymity than posting on Reddit or a forum where you might want to re-use an account, or a blog that can be traced back to you, while still offering a built-in audience. (There’s also something to be said about the performance of secret-sharing that goes on with PS, the hand-illustrated postcards and poignant prose, which makes me think the guaranteed audience is more important than the secret, or the validity of that secret.)

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        1. Definitely agree that pseudonymity makes us more inhibited at large than pure anonymity. Also, you make an excellent point regarding how the popularity of post secret offers the opportunity for considerably more reaction than a site like SLSecrets ever could. That in itself might create an incentive to get positive feedback for sharing secrets, which would not necessarily be there if people used the site to malign others. In the SLSecrets scenario, the inverse is true. It seems plausible that because most of the users of the site seem to be keen to spread gossip and rumour, one would get a lot of positive feedback for slamming all and sundry. In the end, it might just be about incentives… Thanks for your contributions as always Kay!

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  3. I confess I read that site, the slsecrets, every week…since I found out about it a year ago, but then for me it is still a big guessing game as most, if not all, ‘secrets’ go completely over my head – I do not know all these intrigues, complots and whatnot, but in a weird way I like to read the comments, although it sometimes feels like watching a train wreck to happen, right?
    Do I love gossip ? I dunno. Maybe I do? But the moment things get really nasty and mean, I do not like it anymore. I am guessing I am as human as everyone. I’ve had bad days, days of ranting and venting and then the urge arises to make it public. I never did. Some of us do. Jumping on a bandwagon, specially when you can do it anonymous may give some short term relief.
    I have, recently even, replied on comments on slsecrets.com, but never anonymous, always as Caitlin Tobias. I suppose the site serves a purpose, a need, otherwise it wouldnt be so popular. I dont think I am in the position to ‘tsk tsk’ it, as I read it too and have my opinion, if any, but keep it to myself.
    Funny as it seems, I am currently working on an article about passive agressiveness online, but I find it hard …as the whole article may be considered passive agressive as well. A challenge eh, just like gossipping and drama. Secretly, in some way I am sure we all like to watch for a bit, but we are hesitant to admit. Thanks for this great article Becky!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I won’t lie and say that I’ll bring my hands to my ears and close my eyes when I detect someone spreading gossip. As I said, it’s a natural and understandable behaviour we all engage in at one time or another – both as senders and receivers.

      I do, however, try to catch myself when responding to gossip – and try to think critically as to whether I am contributing to the spread of negative gossip in play. One thing I’ll do when talking about something someone has done (if it isn’t what I consider positive), is omit their name if it isn’t necessary for the message to be understood (which it rarely is). Another thing I’ll do is actively change the subject to either discuss something more positive, or at least neutral. I think most of us do that, because the attitude towards gossipers in our society (real and virtual) is quite negative.

      I’ll say this too: whenever I hear anyone negatively gossip about someone else, I tend to wonder what they might say about me, when my back is turned.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. You are right, and upon reading my initial comment I made myself sound like fan of that site – which would be not true. A reader, yes. A human who occasionally gets into gossip in a moment of not paying attention enough on what you are getting into, but like you – always hesitant the moment you feel what direction something is going. And yes, one can wonder how a gossiper acts when you leave the room, about you. I would not want people to wonder that about me.
        I also think we shouldn’t think that the slsecret site is covering and serving and acting for the whole SL population. I have been following it for a year now, and it is usually up to 10 (maximum) secrets of which 2 or 3 about the same (or counter-secrets!), and that repetitive for months, and known by some ‘incrowd’ who all respond to eachother – using different names all the time, but I think in the end it is all about a very, very small group.
        I am usually interested, in how the comments develop and can sit here, amazed on how fast things escalate! But then, I do that on facebook too, sitting on my hands, touching it.
        It’s the equivalent of watching Eastenders I guess..

        I think the real, mean and dangerous (big word) is the gossip happening Inworld in IM’s, notecards, groups and on social media – public or in private. But that’s difficult to see and hard to get an idea on how big that it, but from what I have seen surfacing..I think it’s big. And ugly.

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  4. I think, over the years, I’ve heard of this site, but had never visited until today and found myself scrolling through all the comments because… god, it’s just so GOOFY.

    Have I been mentioned? Has anyone ever posted about me? Oh, I hope so! Maybe I’ll submit one myself! I WANNA BE ELITE, TOO!

    Just kidding… what a ridiculous waste of time that is for anything other than browsing for a good laugh.

    I will say that I don’t believe gossip is more prevalent for those in virtual worlds over the real world. And I don’t think what SLSecrets has turned into can in any way be compared to PostSecret… it’s just nothing like it.

    What it IS like, though, is a completely terrible site called Topix. I’m not sure if it’s international, but every small town in America has a forum on Topix and it’s just vile. It’s completely anonymous and people in these little towns go in and post the most terrible rumors, gossip and lies about their neighbors. Topix is the asshole of the internet and where the worst of the worst congregate to spread gossip. And it’s like a car wreck… you just have to slow down to see what’s going on. And the little bit of SLSecrets I looked at today is pretty much just the same thing, on a much smaller scale.

    It’s just human nature to gossip… I’m certainly not above it myself, though I do try to temper it when I realize I’m being caught up in it… and I always try to take anything I hear with a grain of salt. But even though I think it’s somewhat natural, I can’t understand the people who spend hour upon hour on sites like SLSecrets, and Topix, and take it seriously. Who has time for that? There are so many better ways to kill an hour.. in Second Life or in the Real World.

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  5. oh I suspect it is the drama of course that keeps most people coming back – and we all have a tendency to gossip at times. There is a sense of danger in it all and the thought that you cannot get truly hurt- but the thing is of course you can be hurt- psychologically and spiritually. One of the reasons ( of many) I pulled out. Real life can be difficult enough without having to deal with those same issues in a fantasy life. But then many people do not consider SL a fantasy life. It all gets so confusing at times lol. But after a hiatus and whittling down my friends list to a comfortable dozen I can now visit SL at leisure and focus on the many creative aspects. So, I put SL into a perspective that works for me and does not consume my time and energies. My life keeps me pretty busy and it’s truly a nice breather and relaxing delight again to visit.

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    1. That’s a good way to look at it – a measured approach to using it for what you want – very valid. I don’t think gossip is any greater in the virtual world than in the real world – you’re just around more people with faster tools to do it with.

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  6. I’ve read SL Secrets for years, and i have to admit I’m always a bit bemused when some people come by, look at a week or two, comment or make a post about what SL Secrets means, and then moves on. There’s a lot of hand-wringing about how it means people are horrible, or it’s the hive of scum and villainy which somehow makes SL worse, or a whole slew of other things.

    And it’s definitely a place where people play out their jealousies, obsessions, and hatreds – both targeted and not (Second Life children get an incredible amount of hate, for example). I suspect a lot of the reason for the targeted nature of it is because the audience is so much smaller – Post Secrets has a prospective audience of millions, but they may not be millions you know, so using it as a means of communication is inefficient. It’s also curated, which SL Secrets never was much and now isn’t at all.

    SL secrets has a much smaller audience, and a subset of that audience is vocal, so they can be targeted – and even if they are not readers, someone they know might be. For example, a couple of years ago someone who disliked the art / persona / renown of Whiskey Monday did a few posts about it, and she ended up hearing about it through the SL grapevine and her awareness that some people can dislike her simply for what she was doing and the attention she was getting for it then ricocheted through her art. I was grieved she was hurt, but it’s can’t be denied that as a grudge communication service SL Secrets is remarkably effective.

    I try to post a positive SL Secret every week; I’ve not managed it about half the time simply because I forget, or get distracted; there is not the same strum of emotion attached to saying nice things. Brie has been making pleasant SL secrets for months now, and it’s fascinating to see the amount of criticism she gets for doing so and attaching her identity to it. It would be similarly fascinating to see what would happen if all of the people who critique SL Secrets for being negative and cruel actually made some positive or self-revelatory Secrets.

    In a very meaningful way, SL Secrets is what it’s readers make it into.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks for your comment on what’s proven to be a very comment-able topic!

      I agree it would be “fascinating to see what would happen if all the people who critique SL Secrets for being negative and cruel actually made some positive or self-revelatory secrets”. I think it’d be a short lived effort that would prove maladaptive to the environment, unless the effort was coordinated and supported as a “hostile takeover” of the community.

      I think there are two distinct things you’re talking about with your comment above however: 1) positive and 2) self-revelatory. From what I’ve seen, Brie’s “secrets” are not secrets (as the community defines them) at all (which might be one reason she gets criticism). They are positive but NOT revealing (of either self or others). Instead, Brie’s posts seem more like “my positive thought for the week” posts. While there is nothing wrong with that in itself, she’s going against the currently accepted unwritten rules of the community (which might sound more like: “post negative revelations about others and we will reward you with feedback”). I can only guess at Brie’s intentions with her posts (and it’d be great if she’d comment here), but I can only assume she is aiming to “disturb the norm” with them. It’s understandable (if not agreeable), as to why commenters would react to her posts in the negative way they do (e.g. “stop raining sunshine on my shit parade!!!”). She is seen by the community as a pest, or an invasive species, that needs to be stamped out before it spreads so that it doesn’t contaminate the natural balance of the ecosystem.

      I think the more impactful difference you point out (as opposed to positive v negative posts) is the direction of revelation. While most posts on PostSecret seem to be self-revelatory, most posts on SLSecrets seem to be other-revelatory – which puts them into the category of gossip. As Kay said above, (and I paraphrase) the PostSecret ecosystem may reward creative and dramatic self-revelation, and the SL ecosystem may reward dramatic other-revelation (I don’t see many comments regarding the creativity of the posts themselves, but certainly commenting on their dramatic nature).

      This relates to your comment “In a very meaningful way, SL Secrets is what it’s readers make it into.” I think that community members make a community into what they want it to be as much as the inhabitants of an ecosystem have the potential to shape their habitat. For example, introducing beavers into Terra del Feugo had a substantial impact on the local ecology (because of their dams). Similarly, if people intent on self-revelation were to “invade” SLSecrets en masse and “dam” the current of other-revelatory secrets (and multiply as a result of collective incentivisation through comments), then, I think what might happen is that the ecology would change. In that same vein, introducing uncoordinated, small populations as easy prey (e.g. Brie) might have the effect that predators in the local ecology may be incentivised to comment more frequently and harshly, giving rise to more negativity and less incentive for other positive posters to post.

      If you consider the two sites as ecosystems, or habitats, it’s clear to see which is most advantageous adaptive behaviour of the participants in each of the sites. That could change over time, but changing an ecosystem requires the invasion of a species that can outcompete the others, or a radical change in the environment (moderation via administrators). It needn’t be considered neither right or wrong, but it is very interesting to see what kind of animal thrives in each habitat, and really, my question was “how did each habitat evolve the way it did?”

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  7. Great article, I found you via Colleen Criss who reposted your article on Google +.

    I think one of the factors that may play into SL Secrets is that I believe it is predominantly supported by the Fashion community and THAT community is probably as close as SL comes to having “Movie Stars,” (at least in their minds :)) It is competitive, it is full of clique’s, and the attitude you describe permeates most of its operations.

    One thing I found, working in television, speaking to a much broader spectrum of the SL community, is that there is a huge component of us that know nothing of these little spats and the latest gossip and accusations that fly all over the grid. Fashion seems to be steeped in it.

    As for gossip itself, that is an interesting topic. I love The Red Tent and the idea that women once embraced the part of themselves that shared stories about life, about one another . . . for all the reasons you explain in your article. It is a big part of any group. I believe that women do each other a great disservice when they abuse, what for us, is a very much needed part of our lives. Go into any maternity ward in any hospital and you will find women bonding and talking about their labour. It is part of our coping mechanisms. We talk, we think it through, we let our emotions out and we heal and move on. If we are lucky we have women in our lives who protect that privileged talk. They know that even though we are angry and saying horrible things it is neither who we are or what we really feel. They know we will get it out and let it go. They allow us to do that by not holding us to the emotions we express when hurt or angry but welcoming back the healthier attitude that starts to eventually shine through again. Sometimes they even nudge us a little with reminders that we are not that person.

    I have had relationships with women who have done some pretty nasty things. Still I would never betray them by taking what they told me in complete vulnerability and using it to destroy them, even when the relationship is over. Those conversations were not about ammunition. they were about a bonding, a communion, between women. Have we lost that?

    It would be nice to see the secrets, and the discussion aimed at the act and not the person. I think we forget sometimes the person behind the anonymity in here. They bleed too and as much as we think we know what is happening to other people . . . we never know the whole story.

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    1. Thank you Ariea for visiting my site and commenting on this post 🙂 I just loved your explanation for how gossip arises out of casual and healthy conversation amongst women. I especially liked how you reconciled the sometimes very real desire to ‘be mean’, and how talking it out – almost testing ideas in a way – can help those we confide in sometimes protect us from ourselves. I’m looking forward to reading more of your views in the future! 🙂

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  8. Your blog is very interesting and I like many of your posts. I’m actually not surprised that that last name in SL has over 150,000 residents that use it. Honestly though, if the residents were just going to gossip about others then someone else should have just created a gossip site, but then if this site exists then an SL gossip site probably exists too and we are not aware of it.
    I would hate for virtual worlds in general to be labeled in such a negative light but this isn’t the most negative thing that SL itself is known for. Sex and copybots are prevalent too; might explain the creation of a new platform. I digress, it seems like her PostSecrets site is the best option for people whom actually want to share their virtual secrets as opposed to the SLSecrets that has the quote on its home page “home of the virtual bitch slap” intentionally inviting all ‘gossipgirls’ now and in the future.

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