I was one of the librarian volunteers working regular reference desk shifts at Info Island in Second Life* when the Virginia Tech mass shooting happened on April 16th, 2007, when an undergraduate student at the university shot and killed 32 people and wounded 17 others with two semi-automatic pistols. It remains the deadliest school shooting in the history of the United States, and was also the deadliest mass shooting by a lone gunman in U.S. history, until it was surpassed nine years later by the Orlando gay nightclub shooting.
Within days, a makeshift memorial was erected next to our reference desk, which was visited by hundreds of avatars, who left flowers and teddy bears, and lit virtual candles. Here is an image I took at the time, with the Info Island reference desk in the foreground, and the memorial wall in the background, with pictures of the 32 people who lost their lives that day.
After a week, the area next to the reference desk was a literal sea of flowers and candles. I loaded up my angel avatar and flew over the scene:
The owners of Info Island set up cubes (which you can see in this picture at bottom right) so people could sit and meditate. Some people stayed for hours, crying and chatting with each other. It was all incredibly moving, and I learned for the first time that expressions of grief and outrage in virtual worlds are no less powerful than in real life.
Virtual worlds such as Second Life have always been home to memorials and monuments to inform and educate people about episodes of terrorism, crime, and injustice. And so it is with the current Black Lives Matter Movement.
Today, I paid a visit to an art installation and educational exhibit intended to inform, educate, and raise awareness of the racism faced by Black people in America. The imposing Ministry of Truth building from George Orwell’s dystopian science fiction novel 1984 sits opposite a recreation of a Nazi concentration camp.
Inside the concentration camp is an exhibit of paintings done by David Olère, who was a Polish-born French painter and sculptor best known for his explicit drawings and paintings based on his experiences as a Jewish Sonderkommando inmate at the Auschwitz concentration camp during World War II:
Scattered throughout are paintings by Bansky, and deliberately provocative quotes, sculptures, and images, drawing parallels between humanity’s history of racism and fascism, and speculative fiction such as Orwell’s 1984, with what is happening here and now in Donald Trump’s America:
The Black Lives Matter memorial is just around the corner from the Ministry of Truth and the concentration camp (here is the exact SLURL of the memorial wall; you will arrive at a common spawn point on the sim, just follow the large white signs with the arrows to locate the spot).
A number of Second Life vendors have donated free items, which you can pick up here at the Black Lives Matter memorial. Here my avatar is wearing a Black Lives Matter hoodie from BUNK and a BLM baseball cap by Snapz:
The hoodies come in four different styles, and fit classic avatars as well as Maitreya Lara, Belleza (Venus – Isis – Freya), Slink (Hourglass – Physique), Adam, Aesthetic, TMP/Classic, Exmachina Davide, Signature Gianni, Belleza Jake, and male Slink mesh bodies. The baseball cap comes in one size, but you can click on it to adjust it to fit any head. There are also shirts by Mossu, Blueberry, and Nerdy Princess to fit a variety of male, female, and children’s mesh avatar bodies, as well as some wall hangings and other items for your home.
At a time when mass demonstrations carry the very real risk of becoming infected with the novel coronavirus and developing COVID-19, virtual worlds provide a valuable space where we can gather safely and protest against the injustice, police brutality, and racism currently taking place in America and around the world.
UPDATE June 5th, 2020: Linden Lab has just released the following statement via their official blog:
Social Injustice Has No Place in the Physical or Virtual World
Like many of you, we are feeling a combination of horror and outrage over the history of racism against Black lives. What we continue to witness is deeply disturbing and demanding of immediate social change.
The killing of George Floyd seen on video around the world is only one in a long and unacceptable series of violent and racist attacks and discriminatory behavior directed against people of color.
We stand in solidarity with Black Lives Matter, all victims of systemic oppression and violence, and with Black communities across the U.S., the globe, and the virtual world in condemning racism and any and all actions that promote division.
Our mission at Second Life has always been to help build a better world, and in support of Black Lives Matter, we will be donating $10,000 each to three charities that are active in helping to fight oppression and injustice including the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) and the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC).
How can you help? This weekend, you can participate in the Stand for Justice fundraising effort dedicated to raising funds for Black Lives Matter, Black Visions Collective, Campaign Zero, the National Police Accountability Project, and a Split Bail Fund benefiting 38+ bail funds nationwide. We also highly encourage you to sign petitions, text, call, or donate to show your support, acceptance, tolerance, inclusion, and equal opportunity for all.
Now is the time for us to come together as a community and to stand up for what is right, just, and decent. We hope that you will stand with us in our fight for a better world and in recognition that Black Lives Matter today and every day.
—The Linden Lab Team
*For a short history of the rise and fall of libraries in Second Life, please see this blogpost.