It took a researcher studying Meta’s titular metaverse less than an hour to be “practically raped” after putting on the VR headset for the first time. After days of witnessing and experiencing rampant conspiracy theories, sexual harassment, racism and homophobia, the authors of a recent report said the tech giant was utterly ill-prepared to realize its dream of create a shared online space for millions of users.
Nonprofit business watchdog group SumOfUs released its report last week outlining Facebook-born Meta’s transition from a social media-focused company to one trying to define what it means to be online in a pseudo-physical environment. The group also documented how, as Meta’s VR platforms have grown to over 300,000 users, Meta’s flagship metaverse product, Horizon Worlds, is already home to the internet’s worst kinds of racist and misogynistic caricatures. SumOfUs even included a link to a video (note, sexual assault warning trigger) of when users led a seeker into a room and proceeded to move their avatar torsos back and forth in a kind of bumping motion, while another user tried to pass a bottle of vodka.
SumOfUs hasn’t been shy about taking a stand against Meta and defending big business on a host of other issues, but this report shares plenty of evidence of how little moderation there is in the Horizon gaming space. The report’s researchers were apparently tracked across different worlds in the Meta-owned product. There were examples of fake drugs laid out on tables and users constantly calling each other racist and homophobic slurs.
“Meta is moving forward with the Metaverse without a clear plan for how it will reduce harmful content and behavior, misinformation, and hate speech,” the report said. Not only does the company know that content moderation is a problem, but it doesn’t have a specific plan to fix it. The report’s writers cited an internal March memo shared by the Financial Times and authored by Meta Vice President of VR Andrew Bosworth. The Meta VP said user moderation “on any scale is virtually impossible,” according to FT.
The metaverse’s explicit promise is to occupy a digital realm and interact with people as if you were all really there. While online harassment is nothing new, explicit content of this nature takes on a more visceral nature once you put on the glasses meant to make you feel like you exist in space.
The watchdog group also pointed to several other instances where users with female avatars reported sexual assaults, including one where a male user said he recorded a female gamer’s voice to “jerk off”. Meta had already introduced a “personal limit” feature in February that prevents other avatars from venturing too close to another player’s body. Other virtual chatrooms like VR Chat have already included similar features, but SumOfUs researchers’ avatars were constantly told to remove personal limit settings. When another user tries to touch or interact with you, the VR controllers vibrate “creating a very disorienting and even disturbing physical experience during a virtual assault,” according to the report.
A Meta spokesperson told Insider that the personal limit setting is on by default and that they don’t recommend turning it off when around strangers, adding, “We want everyone who uses our products have a good track record and easily find the tools that can help in situations like these, so that we can investigate and act.
Although Horizon Worlds allows for parental controls as well as the ability to mute other users, the platform is still a major problem for many younger users, especially since researchers have seen other avatars cheering people on. disabling security devices. The app is technically over 18, but current users have said the platform is already full of underage people. Unlike social media platforms that may use systems to monitor written content or even videos, today’s VR chat rooms rely on individual users to report bad behavior.
Current self-proclaimed “metaverses” like kid-centric Roblox have shown how difficult it is to curb unpleasant player behavior. There have been past instances of avatars sexually assaulting other players as young as 7 years old. Horizon Worlds supposedly includes in-game moderators to enforce the guidelines, but the report says that in interviews, players said there aren’t enough of them. And it’s not just a problem for Meta’s platform. VR Chat has hosted disturbing content on a platform that young children who know how to fake a birthday can easily access.
The report’s authors aren’t the only ones taking aim at Meta and its CEO Mark Zuckerberg, specifically for the kind of product they’re trying to create. Amazon’s head of devices recently noted that no one can really define what the “metaverse” really is. Snap CEO Evan Spiegel called the technology more “hypothetical” than anything. Former Nintendo of America head Reggie-Fils-Aimé says Meta is “not an innovative company”, adding that the self-proclaimed Metaverse pioneer hasn’t shown he knows how to lead innovation .
But more than tech executives slapping the competition, the comments mark how ambiguous the idea of a shared digital space remains. Nick Clegg, head of global affairs at Meta, recently wrote that asking Meta to record reader speech in order to moderate content would be like asking a bar manager to listen in on conversations and silence things He does not like. Instead, the company wants to focus on AI-powered systems that help respond to user reports.
“We are at the beginning of this journey,” Clegg wrote.
But the extremely meta-critical editors at SumOfUs basically said that if anyone was going to steer the metaverse ship, they better not be Meta.
“Meta has repeatedly demonstrated that it is unable to adequately monitor and respond to harmful content on Facebook, Instagram and WhatsApp – so it’s no surprise that it is already failing on the Metaverse as well,” they said. the editors of SumOfUs.