The internet allows interactions as well as engagements, both in a good way or a bad way.
The good thing is that, it allows people to communicate through the distance, halfway across the globe, in real time. As for the bad thing, the internet allows people to hide behind their screens, do malicious things, and get away with it.
This is possible because harassments and assaults done through the internet are limited to verbal, imagery or video.
After opening its "metaverse" platform Horizon Worlds to the public, the company hopes that users can feel and experience the digital world where virtual reality is blending the digital world and the real world. Through the Minecraft-like environment, users can interact with other avatars, as thousands flocked as beta testers to experience regular comedy shows, movie nights, and even meditation sessions.
And this time, even before the platform garnered enough traction or out of beta, users were already being sexually harassed and even assaulted.
According to one user in Facebook’s official Horizon group, as quoted by The Verge:
Another case was experienced by Parmy Olson.
The columnist said that once when she was at the VR lobby of Horizon Venues, which is Meta’s VR events platform that is serving as Horizon Worlds’ precursor, she was surrounded by a "group of male avatars" who started taking pictures of her.
She said that:
She also noted that her conversations with other users were constantly disrupted by children shouting into their microphones, despite the fact that the VR platform should still be limited to users above 18 in the U.S. and Canada.
I spent a couple weeks mingling with strangers in the metaverse to see what socializing was like in Mark Zuckerberg’s vision of the future.
It was fun, but also quickly became creepy when others noticed I was female. Social VR has some challenges ahead. https://t.co/OLJWbwUBq9
— Parmy Olson (@parmy) December 15, 2021
Later, at least one woman reported being "gang raped".
A woman in the UK wrote in a blog post on Medium that she experienced what no women should ever experience.
"Within 60 seconds of joining," Nina Jane Patel wrote, "I was verbally and sexually harassed – 3-4 male avatars, with male voices, essentially, but virtually gang raped my avatar.'”
With horror, she detailed how she watched her avatar get sexually assaulted by the handful of male avatars, who took photos and sent her comments like "don’t pretend you didn’t love it.”
The men groped her, gang-raped her, and took photos.
As she tried to get away, yelled — “don’t pretend you didn’t love it” and “go rub yourself off to the photo”.
To end the experience, she had to tear off her VR headset which covers her eyes.
"It was surreal. It was a nightmare," she said.
It's worth noting that the 43-year-old Nina Jane Patel was not just some ordinary users, as she was the co-founder and the VP of Metaverse Research.
This week I shared my experience of #sexualharassment in Horizon Venues, with @mollclayton, News Reporter at the @DailyMailUK @MailOnline
The article highlights the need for change within the current state of the #Metaverse. https://t.co/KzkP6L4Ej1
— Nina Jane Patel (@NinaJane_PhD) January 30, 2022
Facebook the social media network has been struggling to contain numerous harassments and toxic contents its users are sharing.
The company tried to fix that, and avoid everything altogether, by rebranding to Meta.
After all, CEO Mark Zuckerberg once said that Facebook should no longer be considered a social media company, once it is a metaverse company.
The thing is, this metaverse that uses enhances user interactions and engagements, doesn't eliminate the fact that people are still way across the globe and can still harass and assault others.
Just like Facebook, users on Meta can easily interact with people they don't know.
But things can get worse on Horizon Worlds because the virtual environment is providing an extra dimension for people to harass and assault, and to be harassed and assaulted.
In other words, the metaverse that is essentially a VR app, doesn't allow users to "physically" assault others. But through the enhanced experience, it is allowing people to evade personal space to a whole new degree.
No longer are harassments and assaults on the internet is done verbally, through imagery or videos, as with VR, they can also done virtually.
Meta’s VP of Horizon, Vivek Sharma, called the situations users complained about "absolutely unfortunate."
"That’s good feedback still for us because I want to make [the Safe Zone feature] trivially easy and findable."
Rather than preventing users from doing those things, Meta is hoping to make the problem go away by making adjustments to its tools.
Meta said that users can always 'escape' this digital world by accessing the primary menu, where they use the safety button to instantly teleport them to a "Safe Zone," which is a private room where they can take a break or block, or mute, or report other people.
"We will continue to improve our UI and to better understand how people use our tools so that users are able to report things easily and reliably," added Meta spokesperson Kristina Milian. "Our goal is to make Horizon Worlds safe, and we are committed to doing that work."
It's worth noting that Horizon Worlds is Meta’s first attempt at releasing something that resembles Zuckerberg’s vision of the metaverse.
For this reason, the company is still probing the matter and is still experimenting on things to really understand the best solution.
But for a company that does have a long list of controversy, Meta’s approach isn’t exactly confidence-inspiring.