Report: Metaverse Rife With Rape, 'Toxic Content'

Researchers urge Meta to weigh the potential harms and protect users
By Mike L. Ford,  Newser Staff
Posted May 30, 2022 1:19 PM CDT
Report: Metaverse Is Not a Safe Place
   (Getty - dusanpetkovic)

The metaverse is still a work in progress, but it’s already attracting the worst of the internet. Per Business Insider, a researcher's avatar was raped in Meta-owned Horizon Worlds "within an hour after she donned her Oculus virtual-reality headset." It's one of several examples described in a recent report by the advocacy group SumOfUs, which includes video from the researcher’s perspective as two male avatars harass her. The group chose not to share video in which the researcher was "raped by a user who kept telling her to turn around so he could do it from behind while users outside the window could see."

Besides sexual assaults, groping, lewd gestures, and stalking, the report describes an environment rife with gun violence, racist and homophobic slurs, and "election fraud and pandemic misinformation." In other words, it’s "another cesspool of toxic content," as SumOfUs puts it. The report also criticizes "inadequate processes for reporting violations" and “failure to take action against users” who violate guidelines. A Meta spokesperson who spoke to the Daily Mail pointed out that the researcher knowingly turned off the default "Personal Boundary," which prevents other users from getting within four feet. "We don’t recommend turning off the safety feature with people you don’t know." The researcher was encouraged by other users to disable it.

Business Insider notes that Meta exec Nick Clegg blogged earlier this month that the internet is like the physical world: people do and say awful things, both legal and illegal. “The metaverse will be no different,” he wrote. "People who want to misuse technologies will always find ways to do it." Despite being virtual, SumOfUs campaigns director Vicky Wyatt told the BBC, "It still counts, it still has a real impact on users.” She urges Meta to weigh the harms and act now, while the metaverse is still young. Shareholders had a chance in a recent meeting, per CNET, but they voted down a proposal to examine "potential psychological and civil and human rights harms to users." (Read more metaverse stories.)

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