The Metaverse needs to know how to deal with sexual assault

This story is part of Made MetaverseCNET’s exploration of the next stage of the Internet’s evolution.

Watching a friend or family member use a VR headset is a strange experience. They wave wildly, flying into the empty space. But they react to what feels like a real set of triggers: bad guys to take down, or ghost-haunted lanes around every corner. It seems unreasonable to you. It is a real feeling for them.

Which is why sexual assault in the metaverse is an issue we can’t afford to wait.

On Tuesday, a researcher from SumOfUs, a nonprofit organization, spent time at Horizons Worlds, Meta’s leading VR scientist. It took less than an hour for her to be “raped”, According to a report from the organization.

What does being sexually assaulted mean in metaverse? In this case, the researcher was Trapped in a room by two male avatars. One of these people came face-to-face with the researcher and made sexually offensive comments, while the other stood and apparently drank from a virtual vodka bottle.

the report On social media, where many have argued that “rape” is too strong a word to apply to what happened in that passage. These connotations obscure the point that hypothetical interactions can be traumatic in real life. Although Metaverse is relatively young, it does exist Countless cases of boundaries being crossed in virtual space.

Back in February, virtual reality researcher Nina Jane Patel She said she was “gang-raped” by four men at Horizon Worlds. They crowd around, snapping screenshots touching her character while saying, among other lewd comments, “Don’t pretend you didn’t like him.” Back in June, a woman was playing an Echo VR sports game with strangers when someone said he recorded her talking to “jerk off” at a later time.

Abuse in the metaverse is likely as endemic as it is on social media. But these incidents illustrate how traumatic you can be due to the immersive experience these worlds provide. The idea of ​​living in a virtual world, which was once the selling point of virtual reality, has been turned upside down in the darkest way possible.

“It was surreal,” Patel said He told about her experience in a blog post. “Virtual reality is basically designed so that the mind and body cannot differentiate between virtual/digital and real experiences. In some cases, my physiological and psychological response was as if it were happening in reality.”

Virtual reality worlds need to provide better protection and tools for their users. Social media moderators already have a challenging but crucial job, but in the metaverse they will likely need to act like a police force patrolling the streets of a big city. Instead of removing content after the fact, they will need to detect abuse while it is occurring.

Promotional art for Meta Horizon Worlds VR app.

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But this is asking a lot of intermediaries, and it is not clear if any company is ready for this kind of proactive response.

Meta did not respond to requests for comment for this story.

Metaverses are sprawling, open worlds in which hundreds or thousands of people socialize. This can happen under the guise of a game, such as Fortnite or World of Warcraft, or a social simulation such as Second Life. It is an old concept. The reason you’ve been hearing the phrase so often over the past year is that metaverses are evolving into their next phase.

What the next stage looks like depends on who you talk to. When blockchain fans talk about the metaverse, they’re referring to it Big open world games saturated with NFTs and cryptocurrencies. It’s not necessarily a specific thing, but CNET Editor Scott Stein says A new way for us to interact.

Then there is the vision of the dead. When the company formerly known as Facebook says “metaverse”, it means a huge virtual world that simulates the real world. Metaverses Blockchain will be on PC browsers. Metaverse metaverse live in virtual reality goggles. (Meta CEO Mark Zuckerberg has I talked about the possibility of merging NFTs and other tokens in his company’s metaverse, but what that would look like is not yet known.)

The advantage of VR metaverses is that they are more comprehensive. Unfortunately, this also makes abuse more difficult. This is especially true when users have fitted jackets, which actually allow them to feel an unwanted touch.

“It was a nightmare,” Patel said.

Equinox in Metaverse

It will undoubtedly be difficult to moderate the metaverse of current social media. On social media, you can block people who annoy you, and moderators can remove harmful content. Even with these advantages, platforms like Facebook and Twitter are full of harmful content.

In addition to intense moderation, companies will need systems in place to curb abuse in the first place. This would be difficult enough in browser-based metavers where, as in today’s MMO games, damage can be done via voice chat. It will be much more difficult in virtual reality worlds where they can physically touch you and invade your space.

Andrew Bosworth, chief technology officer of Meta, stated that modifying users “to any meaningful scale is virtually impossible”, According to a note seen by the Financial Times,. But he called widespread harassment an “existential threat” to the success of Metaverse.

Meta has been fixing safety tools in recent months. Since it mods Horizon Worlds, which is still in beta, it has added safety precautions like Border bubble feature. If switched, it prevents people from getting close to the avatar by four feet.

“We have a lot more tools than we’ve touched,” said Aaron Stanton, co-founder of Oculus shooting game QuiVR. After being alerted that a woman had been touched by another in-game avatar, Stanton and his co-designer performed a gesture that allowed users, when threatened, to drive away the assailants.

Now director of the VR Health Institute, Stanton believes that developers in these worlds should focus more on features that empower users. Stanton’s reasoning is not that the victim is responsible for her protection. Instead, he says, protections are often inadequate, and can leave abused feeling helpless. But he believes virtual worlds open the door to better moderation than social media platforms.

He uses the example of a gesture that makes you a giant who can get rid of harassers. For the abuser, your avatar will disappear. But in your game, you will feel that you have the power to get out of a bad situation.

“The problem with pure security tools is that they leave the threat inside the speaker,” he said. Protection tools “don’t really remove the threat, they just do it online. I think we need solutions that really deal with the problem without forcing players to give up virtual space.”

There are many uncertainties revolving around the metaverse. Arguably the most important thing is to make sure that it is built in a way that does not allow abuse to flourish like it does on the Internet right now.

“Over the past 20 years, we have integrated the Internet into our daily lives,” Patel wrote. “The non-negotiable, this time, ignores the dark side.”