Disturbing accounts of sexually assaulted and harassed women in the Metaverse are piling up, according to online watchdogs.
A 21-year-old woman says she was raped less than an hour after being in the metaverse, according to a new report from SumOfUs, a “nonprofit advocacy organization and online community that campaigns to hold responsible companies” for a variety of alleged violations.
The report – titled “Metaverse: Another Cesspool of Toxic Content” – dives deep into allegations that a woman was “virtually gang raped”, hate speech and content moderation issues at Meta, the new image controversial Facebook Inc.
The young woman, who works as a researcher for the group‚ was led into a private room during a party on “Horizon Worlds”, a metaverse platform launched by Meta last December in the United States and Canada that allows users to meet with others, play games and build their own virtual worlds.
She claimed her avatar was then raped by one user while another watched and passed around a virtual bottle of vodka – and others could be seen peering through a window.
In a chilling video clip posted by SumOfUs, an avatar is recorded saying, “Look at this. It’s a free show. Oh, I got it. Get down with that gritty, you heard. Meanwhile, the onlooker avatar responds with, “You’re gonna need more of that, kid,” while passing the virtual liquor bottle around. “Hey a free show!” the avatar is then heard screaming.
When one user is hit by another in the metaverse, the hand controllers vibrate, “creating a very disorienting and even disturbing physical experience during a virtual assault.”
“It happened so fast that I kind of disassociated myself. Part of my brain was like ‘WTF is happening’, the other part was like ‘this is not a real body’, and another part was like ‘this is important research,’” the anonymous researcher said in the report.
The watchdog also noted that “virtual reality users have long reported issues of sexual harassment, verbal abuse, racial slurs, and invasion of personal space on a myriad of apps.”
“Minimal moderation” in these VR worlds has allowed concerning behavior to “thrive”. . . especially towards female-looking and female-sounding avatars.
Meta CEO Mark Zuckerberg has led a massive campaign to move his company to the Metaverse, an all-digital virtual reality environment accessible via headsets or similar technology.
When confronted with the horrific attack that took place in the metaverse, a Meta spokesperson noted that the researcher had disabled the Personal Boundary feature.
The feature launched in February as a security tool enabled by default and prevents non-friends from coming within 4 feet of your avatar.
Meta representatives did not immediately respond to The Post’s request for comment, but a company spokesperson told the Daily Mail: “We don’t recommend disabling the security feature with people you don’t know about. don’t know.”
They also noted several other safety tools intended to help people stay safe in VR environments, including the Safe Zone button, which allows users to block people who bother you and report them or certain inappropriate content.
“We want everyone who uses our products to have a good experience and easily find the tools that can help in such situations, so that we can investigate and take action,” the Meta spokesperson added.
The SumOfUs report also listed other instances of sexual harassment that have occurred in the metaverse.
An anonymous beta tester for “Horizon Worlds” filed a complaint with the app claiming his “avatar was groped by a stranger.”
In 2021, Co-Founder and Vice President of Metaverse Research at Kabuni Nina Jane Patel shared her experience of being “verbally and sexually harassed” within 60 seconds of logging into “Horizon Worlds.” She reported that three to four male avatars “virtually gang-raped” her and took pictures while shouting rude remarks.
While logging into the “Population One” app, which is owned by Meta, Chanelle Siggens said she was approached by another gamer, who then “feigned groping and cumming on her avatar.” Another “Population One” user, Mari DeGrazia, said she witnessed harassment more than three times a week on the app. DeGrazia also suffered abuse while wearing a virtual reality vest, when “another player touched her avatar’s chest.”
While exploring the metaverse connected to “Lone Echo VR”, another app owned by Meta, Sydney Smith encountered “lewd and sexist remarks” as another player claimed to have “recorded” her. [voice]in order to “jerk off”. After the disturbing incident, Smith described having trouble reporting the player in-game.
SumOfUs said harassment and assault is not isolated to Meta-owned apps, but noted that many apps are accessible through the Meta Oculus Quest headset.
The report noted three key steps that should be taken to regulate the VR universe.
- First, according to the report, “regulators must tackle Mark Zuckerberg’s predatory and anti-competitive practices.”
- Second, it is “alarming that to date the United States does not have adequate data protection laws to protect consumers from abusive data collection practices across all platforms, allowing companies like Meta to sell data to third parties with little oversight”.
- Third, while the Digital Services Act (DSA) is enshrined in law in Europe, other governments around the world “must use this landmark legislation as a model for regulating Big Tech companies in their own jurisdictions.”
Another report found that incidents of sexual harassment and assault in the metaverse are generally met with “dismissive, abusive, and misogynistic” responses, according to MIT Technology Review.
However, on a broader scale, the majority of American adults agree that online harassment is a problem, with 41% saying they have experienced some form of harassment in digital spaces, according to research from Pew Research.
Jesse Fox, an associate professor at Ohio State University who studies the social implications of virtual reality, told MIT: “People need to keep in mind that sexual harassment never had to be a physical thing. It can be verbal, and yes, it can also be a virtual experience.
New York Post