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METAVERSE – This is Facebook’s latest big project. The Metaverse is a virtual world developed by the American company Mark Zuckerberg, which recently changed its official name to “Meta”. A kind of parallel universe that the general public should have access to thanks to virtual reality headsets that allow them to fully immerse themselves in new online spaces, to work there or to join other people.
But this future of the internet may prove unwelcome to half of humanity. At least that’s what Bloomberg Opinion journalist Parmy Olson fears in an article published on December 15. The columnist had been able to try out the first versions of Facebook’s Metaverse for two weeks earlier, and what she experienced as a woman was sometimes “very uncomfortable” according to her. “What does social virtual reality look like? Imagine games combined with wacky, old-fashioned internet chat rooms: messy, experimental and often male-dominated. There are trolls and obnoxious children,” she says.
I spent a few weeks 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 scary when others noticed I was a woman. Social VR has a number of challenges ahead. https://t.co/OLJWbwUBq9
— Parmy Olson (@parmy) December 15, 2021
A “place is crawling 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 predecessor Horizon Venues, a place she says is “swarming with children”, while Facebook applications are theoretically inaccessible to children under 13.
In her tests of social interactions with avatars of strangers in virtual reality, the journalist says that she was confronted with a lot “mourners” : Often young and immature players who deliberately spend their time irritating, even harassing other users. From the start of his adventure, an adult male avatar in the voice of a “boy under 10″ screamed at him frantically, amounting to an obscenity. Another pretended to cough incessantly, giggled and said, “Sorry! 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 to discover people from all over the world was there (Israeli, Bulgarian, etc.), the journalist also notes that she met very few women.
An observation she noticed upon her arrival in Horizon locations, during a first dating experience. Her female avatar is then transported to a large hall, “an enormous room with a tree in the middle”, where she happens to be “the only woman among a dozen men”.
Which she didn’t fail to tell them by asking, “There are more men here than women, don’t you think?” The small group of male avatars had then silently surrounded her to take pictures of her before offering her the pictures one by one. An experience she describes as “embarrassing”, where she felt “a bit like a monster”.
What begs the question of overseeing this new medium based on virtual reality interactions that are much richer and more immersive than those we have behind a keyboard. “There seem to be few measures to prevent bad behavior”, the journalist regrets, even though there are functionalities that allow to block and mute the microphone of the problematic users.
“My conclusion was that many of the challenges Zuckerberg faced on social media, such as banning children and controlling bullying, could also haunt him in the metaverse,” Parmy Olson reports in his post.
Moderating these VR universes will be a big challenge for Meta in the future. While thousands of moderators work non-stop on 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 identify posts, photos or videos and moderate problematic content – something that Facebook can’t necessarily do correctly all over the world. But in the Metaverse it will also be necessary to analyze the spoken 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 record any incident if necessary. 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