Virtual Spies in The Metaverse

I was kicking back reading “The Information Bomb” by Paul Virilio today, and then this little nugget from the Washington Post popped up on Slashdot. The US Intelligence Officials (yes those bozos) have issued a series of papers and cautionary warnings about the possibility of terrorism moving to the internet in places like Second Life and other online social networking sites. One of the choice quotes is:

“Unfortunately, what started out as a benign environment where people would congregate to share information or explore fantasy worlds is now offering the opportunity for religious/political extremists to recruit, rehearse, transfer money, and ultimately engage in information warfare or worse with impunity.”

Sure sounds like scare mongering, but compare that with the words of Virilio who wrote:

“the spectre of a second bomb is looming at the end of this millenium. This is the information bomb, capable of using the interactivity of information to wreck the peace between nations.”

So basically, all we want is two opposing sides of mad men squabbling over information while the rest of us realize and demand that it stays free and take appropiate steps, like using proxies, to maintain that free flow. However, there is also the spectre of not just cyber terrorism and information bombs, but that of the recent Wired magazine article in volume 16 issue 2 on “griefers.” These are people who “do it for the lulz” and attack players of “games” like Second Life in order to inferiorate them enough into quitting. As most of them say “the internet is serious business” and they revel in annoying people who take things like Second Life and WoW too seriously. After all in Second Life the economy with the “game” is based largely on fictional currency and so therefore griefing literally attacks people for becoming blind to metaphor that “fictional currency” provides. Nevertheless, real currency, such as the example of Eve online, that the article sites in which enormous battleships costing thousands of “real” money can be taken down by hordes of griefers constantly launching themselves at the large ship with small frigates, dying and then going back for more until the pride and fruits of someone’s well earned money is destroyed.
Prokofy Neva, a Second Life land developer and victim of a series of griefer attacks, even describes griefers as terrorists in the article for their targetting of her entrepeneurial ventures in Second Life. The article even sites her declaring griefers “anti-civilization,” who have cost her real US dollars with their attacks that she equivicates with denial of service attacks on a server. The problem is though that the internet never was civilized. It is anti-control, it is anti-order, and although she complains that she has lost money, it is the money that she has tried to inject into the metaphorical realm that Second Life encompasses. In other words, she is trying to inject real world economic principles into the metaphoric illusion that is created in Second Life. The result is the stripping of real world currency down to its essence, which is that of an idea.
At the same time however, as the internet breaks down real world systems and order into ideas, it still serves to bring together different tribes, different peoples, and offers them metaphoric social gathering places in which ideas can be shared, disseminated, changed, mixed, and conjured all at once in a Marshall Mcluhan blender. It is through this that ideas have a method of imposing a sense of order, but it is an order that last so briefly that it fizzles out and dies faster than a 4chan post, or it is eradicated and stripped bare of all of its idealistic baggage. Therefore, it essentially turns the real world ideas into an elementary game of “telephone” for those who are on the other side of the series of tubes trying to pull that idea that we transmitted out into another place in the real world.
In this setting that information warfare has, will, and is occurring, but is impacting the real, or the meat space as so many love to refer to it as. The warfare however, is the violence that we do to information as opposed to the violence that armed groups do in the real world. They can meat online and discuss, but how are they different than any other group of nut jobs and psychotics that meet all the time on place like Second Life? And even if they do meet, the information and ideas that they exchange are subject to the same Mcluhan soup tha starts out potatos and ends up mush.
To my knowledge no real world terrorist attack has been born out of Second Life or internet sites like it, but I just hope that the US Intelligence, who are now and have been nosing around, understand the serious business that is on the internet, and like the griefers understand the vast difference in the games that are being played by those in the meatspace. But also they realize the problem that social interaction online as anonymous metaphoric shape shifting jerks can do when they try to get down and dirty and find the real information and real idea sharing that they consider as a real threat to the real.