NurPhoto via Getty Images
METAVERSE – This is Facebook’s latest major project. The Metaverse is a virtual world developed by the American company of Mark Zuckerberg, which has recently changed its official name to “Meta”. A kind of parallel universe, which the general public should be able to access thanks to virtual reality headsets that allow them to fully immerse themselves in new online spaces, in order to work there or to join other people there.
But this future of the Internet could turn out to be unwelcoming for half of humanity. In any case, this is what journalist Parmy Olson of Bloomberg Opinion fears in an article published on December 15. The columnist had been able to try the first versions of Facebook’s Metaverse for two weeks before that, and what she experienced as a woman was, according to her, sometimes “very uncomfortable”. “What does social virtual reality look like? Imagine games combined with goofy, old-school internet chat rooms: messy, experimental, and often male-dominated. There are trolls and obnoxious children,” she says.
I spent a few weeks mingling with strangers in the metaverse to see what socializing looked like in Mark Zuckerberg’s vision of the future.
It was fun, but it also quickly turned scary when other people noticed I was a woman. Social virtual reality has challenges to overcome. https://t.co/OLJWbwUBq9
— Parmy Olson (@parmy) December 15, 2021
A “place teeming with children”…
On Thursday, December 9, Meta opened the doors of its Horizon Worlds virtual reality social platform to anyone over the age of 18 in the United States or Canada. Before that, Parmy Olson was able to explore her precursor, Horizon Venues, a place “swarming with children” according to her – and this while Facebook applications are in theory not accessible to children under 13.
In her tests of social interactions with avatars of strangers in virtual reality, the journalist says she was confronted with many “sorrows » : often young and immature players spending their time annoying, even harassing, present other users. From the beginning of his adventure, an adult male avatar with the voice of a “boy under 10” frantically yelled at him what amounted to an obscenity. Another feigned an incessant cough, giggling and saying, “Excuse me! I have the Covid”.
… with “more men than women”
During her virtual epic, she took part in “a concert, a church service, a conference and a speed-dating event”. Although the promise of discovering people from all over the world was there (Israeli, Bulgarian, etc.), the journalist also notes that she only met very few women.
An observation that she noted upon her arrival in Horizon websites, during a first dating experience. Her female avatar is then transported to a main hall, “a vast room with a tree in the middle”, where she happens to be “the only woman among a dozen men”.
What she did not miss their meaning by questioning “there are more men than women here, don’t you think?”. The small group of male avatars had then surrounded her silently to take pictures of her before offering her the shots one by one. An experience she describes as “embarrassing”, where she felt “a bit like a specimen”.
This raises the question of the supervision of this new medium based on virtual reality interactions that are much richer and more immersive than those behind a keyboard. “There seem to be few measures in place to prevent bad behavior” regrets the journalist, even if there are functionalities which make it possible to block and mute the microphone of the problematic users.
“My conclusion was that many of the challenges that Zuckerberg faced on social media, like banning children and controlling bullying, could also haunt him in the metaverse,” Parmy Olson reports in his article.
Moderating these VR universes is going to be a big challenge for Meta going forward. While thousands of moderators work non-stop across Facebook and Instagram to remove hateful, misinformation, and other posts, moderating Metaverse user behavior promises to be much more difficult.
Indeed, in the virtual world, it is not enough to spot messages, photos or videos and moderate problematic content – something Facebook is already failing to do well around the world. But in the Metaverse, it will also be necessary to analyze the oral language or the gestures made live, which can be even more complicated to moderate.
Meta already warns that its “trained security specialists” can isolate and log any incident if needed. But will it be enough to avoid problematic interactions in the Metaverse?
See also on The HuffPost: Meta: Facebook’s Metaverse Worries As Much As It Cares