Within the first 10 minutes of putting on a VR headset and entering a chat room, I saw underage kids simulating oral sex on each other. I experienced sexual harassment, racism and rape jokes. At one point, I heard someone say “I like little girls from the age of nine to 12: that’s just my thing.”
I came across one user who was spewing the most disgusting language I’ve ever heard in my life, to the point where we couldn’t even broadcast what he was saying. I’m talking extreme racism – hate speech, listing the kinds of people he hated, the kinds of people he wanted to kill. It was just so violent. And it all happened in a room I was able to access despite using a profile that I’d listed as being 13 years old.
It got to the point that I was really starting to worry how bad it was making our documentary look. I was conscious we needed balance, so I found myself desperately trying to find good things to latch on to. But the bad stuff kept coming so thick and fast. I didn’t prompt any of it, I was just existing in that space.
I went into chat rooms and people were berating me, actually screaming at me. At one point, seven users surrounded me and tried to force me to remove my safety shield so they could do things to my body. I tried to run away, but they backed me up against a wall, trying to grab at me, making sexual comments. It was the virtual equivalent of sexual assault.
I know it’s not real, but when you’ve got that headset on, it really feels like you’re there – you can hear their actual voices, and wherever you move your head, the world travels with you. It tricks your brain into thinking you’re really experiencing it. You forget it’s not real. It’s just so intimidating. …
When I contacted the apps, they talked about how trust and safety are core to what they do. They claim they are working hard to moderate their platforms (Meta are introducing parental controls, for example) and create a welcoming environment. One of them even specified that they don’t allow underage users to create accounts. …
I don’t think it’s too much to ask that when I go into the metaverse, I’m not racially abused. I don’t think it’s too much to ask that you do something about the fact that your product is covered in one-star reviews on the app store, saying it’s a paradise for paedophiles. And I don’t think it’s too much to ask that’s it made safe enough that people like me don’t have to make documentaries about how dangerous your products are.
For the curious, here’s another documentary on the Metaverse:
Meta boss Mark Zuckerberg has gone all-in on the ‘metaverse’, the digital worlds he think we all will spend our time inhabiting over the next decade, using virtual reality goggles.
Twitter’s renaissance under Musk will likely make it the place an increasing number of social media users want to spend their time and post their content, and will pour pressure on Facebook to rethink its move into the metaverse.
Facebook’s more sensible executives will realise people just want an online place to be able to debate, share and chat, and that any strategy to force people away from that — and into an awkward 3D world full of creepy-looking humanoid animated figures — is a losing one.
Meta’s rebrand last year made it virtually a laughing stock of the tech and analyst community and Facebook is no longer cool or relevant for young people.
Maybe the technology is premature. The Apple Newton failed in 1993, but in 2007, without the handwriting, it basically became the iPhone.
hat-tip Scott of the Pacific