Comments on a sexual, homophobic or racist behavior, conspiracy theories, weapons, sexual harassment and even aggression… Mark Zuckerberg’s dreamed metaverse, this fun space for exchanges and collaborations, is far from over. of what it is. This virtual universe is still in beta phase and is only available in the United States and Canada for now. Still testing but toxic. This is in any case the very sad assessment made by the NGO SumOfUsa real counter-force for large companies.
In a study that opened at the end of May 2022 and was called “Metaverse: another cesspool of toxic content” (Metaverse, another cesspool of toxic content), SumOfUs underlines the chaotic beginning of the virtual world of Meta/Facebook. A metaverse in which, however, about 10 billion dollars are invested indirectly, through the Facebook Reality Labs branch. “With only 300,000 users, it’s amazing how quickly Horizon Worlds has become a source of malicious content. Without immediate action, it will only get worse. […] At this rate, it is entirely possible that the metaverse will be transformed into a darker and more toxic environment. ”
Sexually assaulted less than an hour after arriving in the metaverse
The most bizarre evidence in this report is undoubtedly that of one of the SumOfU researchers. Registered less than an hour at Horizon Worlds, he was invited to a private party where he was “sexually assaulted” to another metaverse user. A few moments ago, he was advised by his new “friends”. deactivate personal boundary. This is a feature released by Meta in February that aims, precisely, to combat sexual harassment.
As soon as she reached the side of the room, a man grabbed her from behind. She encouraged him “Seed so he can do it from behind”. Meanwhile, the other avatars are watching what is happening in the window. And that one character, also in the room, is watching and distributing virtual vodka. SumOfUs revealed a video of the incident, which was filmed for 28 seconds from the researcher’s point of view. You will see these problematic behaviors and hear obscene comments.
A virtual attack with real effects
This “virtual sexual assault” remains all relative because the avatars in Horizon Worlds have no bodies under the belt. There it is the act is clearly sexual, not consensual. The researcher – who enrolled in the metaverse to study social behavior – described the experience as “confusing and confusing”. “It’s important though, it has a real impact on users”explained Vicky Wyatt, director of SumOfUs, to the BBC.
These effects are especially true because the attacked researcher determines that, if his or her personal protection bubble is deactivated, if an avatar touches you, the controllers associated with the virtual reality headset will vibrate. It therefore creates the effect of a real aggression that can be disorienting due to the physical experience of living during the virtual aggression. “It happened so fast that I created some kind of dissociation. “Part of my brain was thinking about what was going on, explained by the researcher. The other part tells me it’s not a real body. And another that it is important for my research ”
Horizon Worlds: all skid allowed
This isn’t the first time women have reported sexual assault in the virtual world of Meta. In 2021, Nina Jane Patel, psychotherapist and researcher, said she was also sexually assaulted at Horizon Worlds. He admitted to being “almost raped by the gang” by a group of 3-4 avatars less than 60 seconds after logging into the metaverse. She testified to be “aggressively arrested” and “verbally and sexually assaulted”, being the target of suggestive language and obscene words because of her avatar’s simple feminine appearance. Some people also report inappropriate behavior and virtual sexual assaults similarly.
Also, virtual sexual assaults are not the only issues faced in the metaverse. SumOfUs pointed out in this report that many comment problems were found by their researchers. In the “private rooms” of Horizon World, it seems common to see:
- Homophobic, racist and sexist comments
- Gun violence
- Conspiracy arguments (U.S. election fraud, arguments against the vaccine, etc.)
- Attempts to sell illegal products (drugs, medicines, etc.)
Moderation in the metaverse: mission impossible?
And obviously the Meta metaverse moderation system seems to have failed. In most cases where inappropriate behavior was reported, system moderators ultimately dismissed the complainants, arguing that the rules had not been violated. The same moderation problems experienced by Facebook as repeated by Horizon Worlds.
“Instead of learning from its mistakes, Meta operates in the metaverse with no clear plan to reduce harmful content and behavior, misinformation and hate speech”, can we read in the report of the NGO SumOfUs. Andrew Bosworth, Chief Tech Officer at Meta, admitted in an internal memo that moderation in the metaverse “On any significant scale it’s almost impossible.”
Between Mark Zuckerberg’s dream – “The dream of feeling that way with the people we love” – and reality, even virtual reality, the gap is wide. We must immediately seek safeguards to avoid seeing the emergence of Web3 without faith or law. A new “western conquest”, without Eldorado.
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