The Dark Side of Metaverse: Here comes Harassment and Assaults

2022 is here, so is the metaverse but harassment isn’t going anywhere anytime soon.

Chanelle Siggens just put on an Oculus Quest virtual reality headset to play Population One, her favorite shooter game. She waited for the action to begin after turning on the game and maneuvering her avatar into a virtual lobby in the immersive digital environment.

However, another player’s avatar approached hers as she waited. Ms. Siggens said the stranger then imitated touching and ejaculating upon her avatar. She was taken aback and urged the player, whose avatar appeared to be a man, to stop.

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“He shrugged, as if to say, ‘I’m not sure what to say.’ Ms. Siggens, a 29-year-old Toronto resident, remarked, “It’s the metaverse — I’ll do what I want.” “After that, he went away.” 

The world’s biggest software companies — Microsoft, Google, Apple, and others — are racing to build the metaverse, a virtual reality environment where individuals can have their avatars do everything from play video games to take gym classes to attend meetings. Mark Zuckerberg, Facebook‘s founder, and CEO, indicated in October that he believed in the metaverse so much that he would invest billions in it. He also changed the name of his company to Meta.

Despite the fact that tech behemoths are betting big on the notion, concerns about the metaverse’s safety have surfaced. Harassment, assaults, bullying, and hate speech are already common in virtual reality games that are part of the metaverse, according to researchers, and there are few mechanisms to easily report misbehavior. According to the nonprofit Center for Countering Digital Hate, a violating incident occurs about once every seven minutes in one popular virtual reality game, VRChat.

In the metaverse, bad behavior can be far worse than today’s online abuse and bullying. Because virtual reality immerses users in an all-encompassing digital environment, undesired digital touches can be made to feel real, and the sensory experience is enhanced.

“When something bad happens, when someone comes up to you and gropes you,” Ms. Siggens explained, “your mind tricks you into thinking it’s happening in the real world.” “It’ll be so much more intense with the complete metaverse.”

The firms are enticing individuals to join the metaverse, with Meta, the maker of the Oculus Quest headsets, slashing costs over the holidays.