The Other Side of the Metaverse: Harassment, Assault, Bullying and Hate Speech

Tech giants have deployed the Metaverse, but the dangers of the Metaverse are constantly being exposed.

Shenyi Bureau is a compiling team under 36氪, focusing on technology, business, workplace, life and other fields, focusing on introducing foreign new technologies, new ideas, and new trends.

Editor’s note: The concept of “cloud universe” has become one of the hot topics in the technology field in the past. There are many big companies in the tech industry that have followed the pace of game developers and startups and have deployed in the Metaverse. This article, compiled from a compilation, tells the story of misconduct such as harassment and bullying in this digital world as tech giants are deploying the Metaverse.

  • Recommended reading: The big manufacturers are here, is the Metaverse really the trend of future technology development?

The Other Side of the Metaverse: Harassment, Assault, Bullying and Hate Speech

Image credit: Hannah Lock

Not long ago, Chanelle Siggens put on an Oculus Quest VR headset to play her favorite multiplayer VR shooter, Population One. After opening the game, she manipulated her avatar into the virtual hall of the immersive digital world and waited for the game to start.

However, while she was waiting, another player’s avatar approached her. Siggens said the stranger’s character then performed lewd actions on her character. Shocked, she asked the male character player to stop.

“He shrugged like he was saying ‘I don’t know what to tell you, this is the Metaverse, I can do whatever I want,’ and then he walked away as if nothing had happened.” Siggan, 29, a Toronto resident said.

World technology giants such as Microsoft, Google, and Apple have all deployed in the Metaverse. In this virtual reality world, people can do anything as characters, such as playing video games, taking gym classes and attending meetings.

In October last year, Facebook founder and CEO Mark Zuckerberg said he had faith in the Metaverse and would spend billions on it. He also renamed the company Meta.

While tech giants are betting big on the concept of the Metaverse, security concerns also come with it. Harassment, assault, bullying and hate speech are already rampant in VR games as part of the Metaverse, and there are few mechanisms to effectively report such misconduct, the researchers said.

According to the nonprofit Center for Counting Digital Hate, in the popular VR game VRChat, the aforementioned misconduct occurs on average every seven minutes.

Misbehavior in the Metaverse may be worse than harassment and bullying on the internet today because VR brings people into an all-encompassing digital environment where unwanted contact can feel especially real , the sensory experience will be more intense.

“When something bad happens, like someone comes up and touches you, the brain tricks you into thinking it’s happening in the real world,” Sieggens said. As development progresses, this feeling will be stronger.”

Evil behavior in games and VR scenarios is not a new phenomenon. But as Meta and other large corporations continue to develop Metaverse platforms, billions of people will pour into the Metaverse, and bad events will become more common.These companies are encouraging people to join the Metaverse. For example, Meta, which makes the Oculus Quest headset, slashed prices for the Christmas holidays late last year.

The Other Side of the Metaverse: Harassment, Assault, Bullying and Hate Speech

Population hegemony game interface. Image credit: BigBox VR

Zuckerberg appears to be aware of the dangers posed by the Metaverse, promising to consider issues such as privacy and security as he further builds the Metaverse. However, even his immediate subordinates doubted they really had the power to stop the bad behavior that was happening in the Metaverse.

In March of last year, Andrew Bosworth, who is scheduled to become Meta’s chief technology officer this year, wrote in a staff memo that it would be nearly impossible to address what people say and do in the Metaverse by any means. question. The memo was leaked earlier by The Financial Times.

Meta spokeswoman Kristina Milian said the company is working with policymakers, experts and industry partners to develop the Metaverse. In a blog post last November, Meta also said it would invest $50 million in global research to develop its products more responsibly.

Meta has invited employees to volunteer to join the Metaverse for testing, according to an internal memo seen by The New York Times.

A stranger touched a tester’s avatar in Horizon Worlds, a recent VR game developed by Meta, a company spokesperson said. Meta said it was aware of the incident, which was also reported earlier by tech media site The Verge.

Misconduct in VR is often difficult to track down, largely because these events happen in real time and often don’t leave a record.

Titania Jordan, chief parenting officer at Bark, a provider of online safety solutions for children, said she was particularly concerned about the misconduct children might encounter in the Metaverse due to safety concerns. Bad actors in the Metaverse could endanger children through things like in-game chat features or talking to them through VR headsets, which are difficult to record, she said.

“VR is a whole other complex world,” Jordan said, “as long as the perpetrators of bad behavior can be pinpointed and they can be stopped permanently, curbed the bad effects so they can’t return to the Metaverse. We’re heading in that direction. .”

Callum Hood, head of research at the Center Against Digital Hate, recently spent several weeks documenting interactive behavior in VRChat games.

The game is primarily played by wearing an Oculus Quest headset. In the game, people can form virtual communities, play cards with characters, meet in virtual clubs, or meet and chat in virtual public spaces. Oculus said the game would not pose a safety issue for teens.

However, Hood said that over 11 hours, he recorded more than 100 problematic events in the VRChat game, some of which involved users who claimed to be under the age of 13. He also said that in some cases, some users’ avatars also made sexual and violent threats against minors. Also, there are attempts to show pornographic content to minors.

Hood said these actions violated Oculus’ terms of service, as well as VRChat’s terms of service. He also mentioned that he had submitted the findings to the two companies but had not received any response.

“The VRChat game is not safe, and neither its developers nor Facebook have taken basic steps to ban abusers from the game,” he said. “They’re inviting minors into the Metaverse while creating safety for abusers. sanctuary.”

The Other Side of the Metaverse: Harassment, Assault, Bullying and Hate Speech

VRChat game interface. Image source: VRChat

Meta spokesperson Milian said that Meta’s community standards and VR policies generally dictate what is allowed on the Metaverse platform, and that’s what developers must abide by.

“We do not allow attacks on others based on race, ethnicity, national origin, religion, sexual orientation, caste, gender, gender identity and serious illness or disability,” Millian said.

She also said minors are prohibited from creating accounts or using Oculus devices. The developers of the apps should also take some of the blame, she added.

VRChat declined to comment.

Sieggens said that after being harassed at the Population Game, she joined a virtual group for dedicated women, many of whom also played the game. She said group members often encounter harassment in the game. Last June, Meta acquired BigBox VR, the creator of Population Conquest.

Another member of the group, Mari DeGrazia, 48, of Tucson, Ariz., said she saw harassment and assaults about “every day” in Population Hegemony. Two or three times a week, sometimes more.”

“Sometimes we even see two or three violations of the rules of the game a day,” she added.

BigBox VR declined to comment.

Delazia said the staff at Population Games had responded to her report, and they also seemed very interested in improving the game’s security.

Despite the harassment, she found a group of friends in the virtual world who regularly played games together and enjoyed the interactions, she said.

“I will continue to play this game because I think the players of this game should be diverse. So it is important for women to be involved in the game,” she said. “Although sometimes it is difficult, we do not will quit.”

Last July, De Lazia entered the Population game wearing a haptic vest that transmits sensations through buzzing and vibration. She said she “felt bad” when another player touched her character’s chest. She pointed out that in Zuckerberg’s description of the Metaverse, people can wear full-body suits to experience more sensations, but she thinks that is very disturbing.

Sieggens said she ended up reporting the user account that harassed her in the game. She then received an automated reply from the game’s side saying they had taken punitive measures against the user.

“I don’t know if he was banned for a day, a week or permanently,” she said. “In either case, the harassment just kept happening.”

Sieggens said her character was harassed by another user an hour after the stranger harassment.

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