Let’s dwell on this post’s title a little. If I choose to believe that X is Y’s alt, then there’s nothing that will change my mind. How many times have we encountered situations where we’ve been accused of being someone else’s alt? How many times have we introduced friends to others, only to see our friends be wrongly accused of being our alts and be given a terrible time – with all the consequences that follow from this? I’m sure you’ve all been in situations like this. And, sadly, there’s absolutely nothing we can do about it.
Second Life provides a degree of anonymity and privacy that we usually don’t enjoy elsewhere. It’s liberating. It’s fun. We can be whatever we want, we can experiment and explore, and it normally won’t have any impact on how we’re seen by our social circles in RL. But there’s this drawback… If someone chooses to believe something about you, nothing you say or do will make them change their mind.
In SL, we can freely make alts for all sorts of reasons. We may want to use an alt as an estate manager for our land; we may want to use an alt as a “bank account” of sorts; a merchant might want to use an alt for a sub-brand they decided to start in order to cater to a different market; you may want to use an alt as a guinea pig for testing scripts and permissions; photographers and fashion bloggers use alts as extras for photoshoots; others may want to use an alt for sexual gratification, leaving their main “untainted”; you may want to make a “fresh start”, in a different social environment within SL; you may want to use them for roleplay scenarios; or, you may want to escape a persistent stalker.
Then, there are people who abuse this ability. People who use alts to play head games, spy on others, cheat on them, stalk them, to circumvent blocks and land / group bans, to rip others’ content through the use of copybot viewers, people who use them as honey traps… All of this is alt abuse, plain and simple, and there’s absolutely nothing that can excuse justify actions like these.
Sometimes, you’ll see a “young” avatar whose command of SL doesn’t match their age. They may be only a few weeks old, but they know how to move around without constantly bumping on things, they have a well-chosen animation overrider, they know how to emote, and their appearance is much better than you’d expect. Immediately, alarm bells begin to ring in your head: “this is someone’s alt”. Or a friend introduces you to someone they brought into SL, and that new person, besides being good-looking and capable of chatting and emoting, shares traits with your friend: avatar gender, basic shape, country of origin, some interests… “Oh, this is my friend’s alt”, you begin to think.
Hold your horses a bit.
Yes, it’s very likely that a new, good-looking avatar who knows their way around SL is someone’s alt. Then again, there are possibilities that one should consider. For instance, the “bring an RL friend” scenario. Typically, when you introduce a friend to a new system or social environment, you help them learn how to use it, how to fit in, and you even give them things, hints and tips to help them get started and avoid being pigeonholed as a “n00b” (more on that later). And remember that friends do tend to share interests – if they didn’t, they wouldn’t be together in the first place.
You might even do what I do: Encourage them to start learning on a “guinea pig” account before deciding whether they like SL or not. When they’re ready, and have decided they actually want to stick around in SL, they can make their “main” account, the one by which they’ll be known to others. It makes sense, actually. When you make your main account, you’ll want to give things some consideration – from your user name and display name to your profile’s contents.
Regarding moving around now, SL really isn’t that much harder in this department than any
As far as emoting is concerned, I’ll have to remind you all that many people are acquainted with emoting in other contexts. More people than you’d like to admit, actually. The chat facility in Gmail / Google+ implements emoting with the /me command – exactly like SL. Emoting has been around for many years: IRC has it, Yahoo! chat (remember it?) has it, etc… Don’t assume that someone’s first use of chat is within SL.
Then comes the “wrist” factor: I’ve noticed – in RL – that people for whom one language or the other is their second tend to use common syntax and spelling conventions that come from the books they studied in order to learn the language. People who took the Michigan Proficiency test (ECPE Michigan) write and speak differently from those who took the Cambridge English: Proficiency test, and each group’s members speak and write using similar conventions.
Oftentimes, people speaking a language as their second are unfamiliar with the slang used by native speakers, and they also tend to be unfamiliar with grammar and syntax errors that might be the norm within various circles of native speakers. Furthermore, depending on their country of origin, they make similar pronunciation and / or spelling mistakes to each other. I’ve encountered these issues while speaking in person to various people in RL for whom my language was a second one. Were they all each other’s alts?
Another thing you might want to consider is that someone might have actually taken the time to learn how to properly use SL and how to make a good-looking avatar for themselves to avoid being rejected and marginalised for being a “n00b”. Remember, many places and people are not exactly friendly to beginners, so new avatars are under palpable pressure: looking and talking like “n00bs” doesn’t act in their favour.
That said, I understand very well why people are wary of alts, or of the possibility that someone they meet may be an alt. But there’s a line that separates cautiousness from paranoia, and one needs to be careful not to cross it.