The change of Facebook’s name to “Meta” and the announcement of the development of the “Metaverse” by Mark Zuckerberg in October 2021, took over the world by storm. As the entire world anticipates entering a new digital era, we can’t help but wonder “will the metaverse be safe?”
These concerns further grew when London-based Nina Patels recall the horror of the sexual assault she encountered within 60 seconds of joining Meta’s platform Horizon Venues by a gang of three-four avatars. In her Medium post, Nina Patel recalls, “A horrible experience that happened so fast and before I could even think about putting the safety barrier in place. I froze. It was surreal. It was a nightmare.”
On May 30th, a researcher working for a global non-profit advocacy organization called SumOfUs was raped as she entered the Metaverse platform Horizon World to study different users’ behavior. A video is linked to the user from the researcher’s perspective on her sexual assault encounter.
A recent report published by SumOfUs depicts the Metaverse as “another cesspool of toxic content,” while detailing virtual groping and gang-rape, sexual homophobic and racist comments, inadequate processes for reporting violations, ease of failure to take action against users who violate platforms guidelines, and ease for children to use the platform and encounter harms. In this report, the researcher depicts feeling “disoriented,” despite the experience occurring in virtual reality. The researchers of this globally non-profit also reported witnessing gun violence on the VR platform.
On 26th November 2021, a beta tester reported facing groping in the Horizon Worlds when the virtual reality platform opened up access for up to 20 avatars to spend some time together in the digital world. On 1st December 2021, Meta revealed that she’d posted her experience in the Horizon Worlds beta testing group on Facebook. However, Meta’s internal review of the alarming occurrence revealed that the beta tester should have used a safety feature called “Safe Zone.” Which is a protective bubble for users and protects them from unnecessary threats or dangers of sexual assault. Within the Safe Zone, no one can touch the user, talk to them, or interact in any way until the users signal the Safe Zone to be lifted.
Sexual Harassment in the Metaverse is Still Harassment
Jesse Fox is an associate professor at Ohio State University who researches the social implications of virtual reality. She stated, “At the end of the day, the nature of virtual-reality spaces is such that it is designed to trick the user into thinking they are physically in a certain space, that their every bodily action is occurring in a 3D environment.”
She further added, “It’s part of the reason why emotional reactions can be stronger in that space, and why VR triggers the same internal nervous system and psychological responses.”
Despite the rising excitement of a new “parallel universe” that the Metaverse has to offer, social concerns have been raised across the globe as investors and users alike wonder what more potential harms could the virtual reality platform pose in the future? Will our interactions in the Metaverse improve or deteriorate? Only time will tell. However, the aforementioned incidents of sexual assault by various users indicate that the Metaverse must take strict actions against users who assault, or harm other users if they aspire to create a digital platform accessible to use for everyone without the need for them to worry about being harmed in any shape or form in the Metaverse.
- Eman Khalid is a writer, journalist, storyteller, researcher, and media professional. She aspires to make a difference in the world through her love for weaving words. Her writings have been published on various educational, literary, and informational platforms. She has also been a co-author of various international literary anthologies. In her spare time, Eman likes to volunteer for the benefit of humanity and has worked with major non-profit organizations such as the United Nations, UNICEF, UNDP, and IOM-UN migration. Eman Khalid is an English Language and Literature student with a profound passion for learning. When she is not writing, you will find her reading history books, listening to songs, stargazing, taking long walks at the beach, and capturing the beauty of nature through her camera lens. Connect with Eman on LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/in/emankhalidwriter/