The other day, I was helping a relative newcomer solve a problem. But something set off alarm bells in her head, and for some reason (I put it down to too many hours on line without a break) she began to suspect that I was an alt of someone who had been giving her a hard time.
I was taken aback...I was NOT an alt of this person, of course...but how could I prove it?
The answer is, you can't. As liberating and fun as the anonymity of Second Life (and much of the rest of the internet) is, it has this drawback. When someone chooses to believe something of you, there is very often little or nothing you can do to prove to them that they're mistaken.
There are many situations in Second Life where you must take another person on faith, and simply trust that they are telling you the truth. When a helpful stranger sends you a free item, should you accept it? Or is it a griefing object that will cause you all sorts of problems?
When someone tells you, "Suzy SlutTastic is Lindal Kidd's alt, you know"...should you believe them? If I say indignantly, "Don't be absurd, I never heard of this Suzy!"...should you believe me?
If someone is selling a line of items that look an awful lot like the items you bought from another merchant six months ago...who is copying whom, or is it a case of independent development?
Someone sends you a URL in chat or IM, and when you click on it, it takes you to what seems to be a familiar SL sign in page...should you enter your user name and password? Or is it a "phishing" site that will compromise your account information?
If you download and install a third party viewer, is it safe? Or will it invade your computer and steal your passwords and identity?
There are two avatars nearby. Suddenly, you are orbited and go soaring off uncontrollably into the sky. When you confront the pair, they both say, "It wasn't me, it was HIM!" Whom do you believe? Or do you just Abuse Report them all and let LL sort them out?
In an anonymous world, trust is tricky. It's easy to abuse it, easy to be taken in by a scoundrel. On the other hand, if you never trust anybody, you will have a very constrained and unhappy Second Life...like the newcomer who refused my offer of a Newbie Kit, saying scornfully "I don't fall for crap like that."
I don't have a solution to this. I certainly don't want to go around everywhere on the web with my real ID hanging out. I think that web anonymity is a powerful form of freedom, one we enjoy almost nowhere else these days. But it means that you have to take people on faith a lot. By and large, most people are at least moderately worthy of your trust. But, now and then...you're going to get burned. Be alert to the signs of scams, con artists, and shady characters. The primary one is always: If it looks too good to be true, it probably is.
And be a trustworthy person yourself. What goes around, comes around.