Legal and Ethical Implications Involving Social Networks and Virtual Worlds


Child pornography has been defined as any visual depiction of sexually explicit conduct involving children under the age of 18” (Kierkegaard, 2008), and is a persistent form of social deviation conflicting with the established social norms in any society. Social or humankind deviations can be defined as actions, behaviors, or thoughts that are carried out by individuals or groups of persons in irresponsible, immoral, unethical, and/or illegal manners (Gomme, 2002). The trading of child pornography is presumably.


In this section, we review some documented and hypothetical incidents that have happened or could happen in MMORPGs and 3D social networks and use these cases to build a table where we classify and compare different virtual environments and their incidence of child abuse under different scenarios.

Child Abuse in MMORPGs

People that produce, trade, and consume child pornography generally use web pages, emails, and peer-to-peer (P2P) file sharing programs, among other Internet services, for carrying out this illegal activity. More recently, pedophiles have been trading child pornography material through blogs, microblogs, and other recent types of web 2.0 social networks, and are taking advantage of video games in the form of online 3D virtual worlds, called MMORPG.

This type of videogame runs on personal computers, as well as on “game boxes” (also called “consoles”), which are dedicated computers for playing video games, running the games either as stand-alone or online for multi-participant use. There have been reported cases of pedophiles using MMORPGs for committing child abuse.

Child Abuse in 3D Social Networks

A number of child pornography issues have also been found in Second Life (SL), a very popular 3D social network (a 3D social network is an online and collaborative virtual world where its users socialize via avatars), which has experienced great growth in the number of users since it was created in 2003 by Linden Lab, a San Francisco-based company. SL consists of a huge online 3D virtual world called Metaverse.

The Metaverse world contains designated areas called islands, where its users can purchase or rent from Linden Lab or from other users for a fee. Millions of users have registered at SL, where they meet, socialize, play, and do almost anything they want as in the real world through virtual personifications of themselves called avatars. SL users can communicate through their avatars employing voice over IP (VoIP) technology, text messages, and gestures. Users can contribute to SL by developing and uploading graphical 3D objects to SL’s virtual world, such as buildings, houses, plants, cars, etc. It is also possible to upload, show and trade images and video files in SL.

Types of Child Pornography and Child Abuse on the Internet

We have conducted a non-exhaustive summary of the problems on child pornography and child abuse in general that have appeared on Internet services, social networks, and MMORPGs, shown in Table 1. As we can see from Table 1, almost all the child pornography-related problems present in conventional Internet services are also present in 3D social networks. Since MMORPGs and social networks in the form of online virtual worlds are of recent and widespread use, there is little research and few applications today on how to prevent and overcome this problem worldwide.

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