Estate Ethics According to Gabrielle Riel

Spring is springing in St John Parish and St John Woods! We had a nice, somewhat relaxed Mardi Gras, if you could ever call a Mardi Gras relaxed! Both sims are full of residents and life in our estate has been good. I am so thankful and grateful for our happy home.

Not everyone in Second Life is as lucky as we St John folks are. In the last three months I have seen a variety of occurrences in several estates that have disturbed me greatly. All of these troubling events have boiled down to one thing: ethics, more specifically "estate management ethics".

I have a very strict ethical code when it comes to estate management. This code is based partially on my own personal beliefs and partially on the training, both formal and informal, that I received as an estate manager in Caledon from 2006-2008.

I have never taken the time to put my values for estate management in writing, but after seeing far too many examples lately of what I consider to be a lack of ethics in estate management in other estates, I decided to put them down in writing for my residents.

Therefore, here are the major points that comprise my ethics of estate management:

1. Innocent Until Proven Guilty

This was one I learned and used in Caledon way back when. There were several times over the years that I received IMs from one resident leveling accusations at another. Unless a situation involved active griefing right in that moment, I always listened to what the resident had to say and then told them I would research it further and pass the information on to Desmond Shang, Caledon's estate owner. I never made snap judgements. I always did what I could to gather as much information as possible about a situation. Then I passed it to Des.

This policy remains mine to this day and I train my estate managers to act in this manner.

2. Resident Right to Privacy

I will never come sneaking around your parcel while you are there with a guest and cam in to see what you are doing. Our estate managers won't do that either. Nor will we cam in from a distance. If there are a green dot or two on your parcel and you are one of them? We'll assume you are there with guests and will respect your privacy.

If the people on your parcel are not you and your friends, or are avatars that we do not recognize, we will do a quick check on your house to make sure that squatters have not made themselves at home in your home! If we do find squatters in your house, we will boot and ban them from the estate.

We also won't come and inspect every object you have in your home. I have lived in estates where this happened! I have had residents do it to other residents! It's unacceptable. The only things that will cause me to look specifically at what you have on your parcel are thematic problems or objects that are causing sim performance problems, for example temp rezzers or objects with high script times, and those are things I discover by doing a general sim scan, not by coming to your parcel and inspecting your objects.

3. Confidentiality

I will never ask you to reveal personal real life details to me. If we are in a casual conversation and I ask questions pertaining to the topic of our conversation I will explicitly tell you that if you do not feel comfortable in discussing anything that even comes close to real life information that you do not have to reveal anything to me.

At this point in my Second Life, almost eight years in, my own personal, real life information is public. I accepted that would have to happen some day if I ever wanted to make Radio Riel "real". I also have many SL friends that I also know and spend time with in real life. That is my choice. I don't expect that from anyone else.

If you do choose to speak to me about anything personal, be it in Second Life or real life, I will keep everything you tell me confidential. I won't reveal it to anyone, including our estate managers. There is so much stuff that I know about people here in Second Life that I have never revealed. It's against Linden Lab's terms of service, but it's also my own personal value to keep things confidential.

I also keep conflicts between residents or between myself and residents confidential. There was a recent situation in another estate in which the estate owner put estate-related conflicts directly into public channels. I won't ever do that nor will our estate managers.

I will be honest. I've been known to vent general fatigue and frustration in places like Facebook or Plurk, but those are always related to my personal Second Life and not about my estate or specific residents.

4. Protection from Harassment

I will do everything in my power to protect you from harassment via griefers or other people in Second Life, including other residents in our estate. Thankfully I can say that I have only had one or two instances in five years in which I had a resident who was actively antagonizing others.

If it's a case of two people who do not like each other, or who tend to argue, I will not get involved nor will our estate managers. Look, we are all grownups and I am not going to be the teacher sending kids into opposite corners of the room.

However if one resident starts to actively do things like place nasty posters or giant walls to try and bother other residents, I will boot and ban them from the estate immediately.

St John residents are amazing. They are wonderful. This topic does not concern me at all. Almost everyone who lives in St John has been in Second Life for 4 years or more. Many of our residents "work" in SL in some form or fashion. We have nice, relaxed, adults in our estate. 

5. Protection from Estate Manager Abuse of Power

If you ever want to see me go into a rage, this topic will do it. Out of everything I have mentioned in this post, this one is my major hot button. This is the most inexcusable breach of ethics I can think of, when the people that have been given the honor of taking care of an estate and its residents use their "authority" to abuse residents.

In my eyes, it is unforgivable.

We have two estate managers in St John: CronoCloud Creeggan and Emmanuelle Huntress. I have known these ladies for years. I know them very well and they know me very well. I know I can trust them.

Let me tell you a story...

Once upon a time when I was a slightly younger estate owner in an estate that was not St John, I had a situation arise that ended up concretely defining my ethics in regards to estate manager abuse of power.

The situation ended up devolving into a mighty mess, but I was willing to put up with the mess in order to protect my residents from being subjected to, or being afraid of being subjected to, abuse from an estate manager.

I never spoke publicly about what happened at the time. I never spoke publicly about the domino effect it caused. It has now been several years and the only person connected to what happened who is still around is me, so I am now going to speak about the details.

I wouldn't speak about this if I felt that it could cause current harm to anyone, but as years have passed and all players are gone, I will explain what occurred

I had some relatively new residents arrive in town who seemed to immediately have conflict with everyone. Other residents. Visitors. They were equal opportunity crabby. My estate was a friendly place. People would swing by and say hello and these folks would just go off on them. They were jerks, plain and simple. Their behavior had not yet escalated to what I considered harassment, and they had only been residents for about a week, but I was watching and waiting for them to go there so I could boot them out.

Unfortunately something happened that completely obliterated my strategy. One of my estate managers, in a fit of anger against the jerks, sent a group notice to the entire estate that said something along the lines of "I can't believe that our nice community is being exposed to this kind of behavior". It was meant to make the jerks feel guilty and to express the frustration at seeing a nice place affected by such poor behavior.

I was not in Second Life at the time the estate manager sent that notice, but I was at my desk with my email open and I saw the notice come through there.

My brain exploded and all I saw was red.

I do not care how much of a jerk a resident is being. It does not justify the use of official estate communication channels by an estate manager to send a notice to 100 people, 98% of whom have no idea what the notice is about, in order to express personal anger and to deliver a message designed to make specific residents feel badly or guilty.

That was unacceptable. Inexcusable. And it was a public abuse of power by an estate manager against residents for personal reasons.

My reaction was instant. I sent an email that contained a single sentence to the estate manager in which I said that I did not know what on earth was going on, but that if I ever saw a public abuse of power like that from them again, I would remove them as an estate manager. And that was all I said about it. When I did speak one on one with the estate manager I said that I was not going to bring up the statement from my email again nor was I going to yell at them about the situation. I had summed the consequences of such behavior up in my email and as far as I was concerned it was water under the bridge.

So what happened in the long run? The jerks chilled out and ended up leaving. The estate manager ended up causing months of drama because they felt that I had been "too mean" to them.

You know what? I should have been meaner. I should have removed that estate manager the day they sent that notice. So many people told me I should have "fired" them instantly. I made the mistake of thinking that setting boundaries and moving on was possible. I was wrong.

That estate manager was so focused on what I had said to them that they completely ignored the fact that what they had done was unacceptable. That what they had done was an abuse of power. That what they had done was public. That public shaming of residents strikes terror into other residents. What if they did something that estate manager didn't like? When would it be their turn to be publicly shamed? Would Gabi tacitly agree to public shaming since the estate manager was a "friend" of Gabi's?

I don't care who you are. I don't care how long you have been a resident of a community. I don't care how long you have been an estate manager in a community. And I don't care if you are "friends" with the estate owner. Abuse of estate powers to target residents in any way is wrong. It's unethical. And I won't allow it in my estate. Oh and please don't let the door hit your ass on your way out.

And so my dear St John residents, these are my ethics in regards to estate management. I think it's clear how strongly I feel about these points and how strongly I feel about your rights as residents in my estate....in OUR estate of St John.

Postscript:

In April 2010, I wrote a blog post that you might like to read in which I discussed what I felt were my responsibilities to my estate residents.

Even though it has been four years since I wrote that post, and it was focused on New Toulouse, I think it still explains my feelings on my responsibilities to my residents and it could give you some background information that will further your understanding of this post.

Here is the link: http://gabrielleriel.blogspot.com/2010/04/responsibility.html

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