The metaverse is one of the words of the year 2021. Very few companies want to be left out and it has been the main strategy of the new direction of Mark Zuckerberg; It is no longer Facebook, it is now Meta. Leading a life immersed in virtual reality is the basis of this concept that comes with many new features but with well known challenges when it comes to bullying and inappropriate behavior.
We have few experiences in regards to the almost newborn metaverse but enough so that some alarms have already gone off. Chanelle Siggens is a user of the Population One video game. With her Oculus Quest glasses, she was inside her digital world when an avatar of another player approached her and ejaculated on the avatar by Siggens. He asked him to stop and the player replied: “He shrugged as if to say: ‘I don’t know what to tell you. It’s the metaverse: I’ll do whatever I want,'” the player recalled to The New York Times.
It has not been the only known case. In Horizon Worlds, a person who was beta testing the virtual reality video game explained that his avatar was groped by a stranger, he reported The Verge. “Sexual harassment is not a joke on the Internet, but being in virtual reality adds another layer that makes the event more intense, “he wrote.” Not only did I get groped last night, but there were other people who supported this behavior that made me feel isolated in the Plaza, “he said in reference to virtual space.
The usual harassment, but in the metaverse
When Mark Zuckerberg announced the Facebook metaverse, he promised to carry out the project with privacy and security in mind. It is not the first time we have heard these promises from the creator of the social network. For now, no specific measures have been taken to curb and prevent bullying or inappropriate behaviors in the metaverse.
Some of these cases can be difficult to track if the victim does not report them because occur in real time and in many cases they are not recorded. The problem is the same in all virtual reality games, and there are few mechanisms for reporting misbehavior, metaverse researchers said. The New York Times. In fact, in the video game VRChat a violation occurs approximately once every seven minutes, according to the non-profit center Center for Countering Digital Hate.
Harassment happens in a world of virtual reality but the situation is reminiscent of the well-known problem on how to stop harassment, discrimination and hate speech on social networks. The lawyer experts in digital rights Sergio Carraso commented to Hypertextual that These facts, in the end, are the same as always. “What changes is the face that the user sees, not what is behind it. There is a network, there are some people in charge and some communication channels, and the act that is carried out at the end can be subsumed in the regulations that already exist”, explained.
“The fact that they are metaverses, or other cases such as augmented or virtual reality, does not change what is at the heart of the matter.”
A question of power and identity
Being a victim of harassment in a social network does not imply that it has a minor impact on the victim due to the fact that the aggression or harassment is not physical. Chanelle Siggens, the female victim of harassment in the video game Population One, explained that when someone approaches and touches you without consent in a virtual reality world, “your mind is tricking you into thinking that it is happening in the real world.” and continued, “With the metaverse complete, it will be much more intense.”
Mónica Pereira, an expert in Urgency and Emergency Psychology and Intervention with Victims of Violence, declared to this medium that abuse, in this case towards women, is not only about the damage that can be done physically as well as a matter of personal identity. “We are talking about a show of superiority from whoever attacks you, even through social networks or an avatar, is wanting to show you that they are superior to you and that they want to use you,” he explained. He clarified that this affects identity as a person and as a woman.
“In the end, it is a way of telling you ‘you are worth nothing and I can manipulate and mistreat you when I want to.’ That is why they affect so much even through networks or even the avatar that I have created in the social network. (. ..) It creates the feeling that there is no safe place for me (not even a virtual place) and causes mistrust in the world in general “.
In the report of The New York Times, the head of the Center for Countering Digital Hate, Callum Hood, claimed that he spent weeks recording VRChat interactions. He entered virtual communities where avatars can play with each other, or virtual public spaces where they meet to talk. In 11 hours, Hood recorded 100 problematic incidents such as sexual or violent threats. Some of them even involved minors under 13 years of age.
Following his investigation, he informed Oculus, as well as VRChat, of the terms of service violations, but has not received a response. “VRChat is not safe because its developers and Facebook have not implemented basic measures to ensure that abusive users cannot access their services, “he said.” They have created a safe haven for abusive users at the same time that they invite minors to enter the metaverse, “he warned.
A well-known story beyond the metaverse
Harassment and inappropriate behavior are starting to show up in the metaverse. It is a fact and it is not a surprise. If we take into account the history of social networks when it comes to dealing with these cases, we know that it is not an easy task for all complaints to be answered.
There are still challenges in dealing with them with platforms that have been used by millions of people every day for years. It is not surprising, therefore, that the case is repeated (with nuances) in virtual reality and in the metaverse. For now it is also repeating the difficulty when braking decisively andThese behaviors.