Nonprofit research firm Center for Countering Digital Hate (CCHD), an organization that analyzes online data and misinformation, reports they spent almost twelve hours in the Metaverse and encountered one case of online hate or misinformation every seven minutes. The inappropriate actions include racism, abuse, hate, sexual content, homophobia, and misogyny, all among users who often were minors. In total, they found over 100 incidents of hate or misinformation during their twelve hours in the Metaverse and recorded many on a special system to share with NBC News.
Facebook, aka Meta, is at the forefront of the Metaverse, a virtual world where users can live an anonymous life among other artfully crafted Avatars. Though this world is anything but physical, the laws of the real world are coming into play as a woman said she was “virtually gang-raped” by other avatars in the Metaverse.
The virtual victim said she was shocked by the instant sexual harassment and attack she experienced in the Metaverse.
“Within 60 seconds of joining—I was verbally and sexually harassed—3-4 male avatars, with male voices, essentially, but virtually gang-raped my avatar and took photos,” Nina Jane Patel, a 43-year-old London-based mother, published in a Medium piece. “As I tried to get away, they yelled, ‘Don’t pretend you didn’t love it’ and ‘Go rub yourself off to the photo.’”
As the entire planet gears up for the next generation of massively popular technology within the virtual and augmented reality of the Metaverse, which is still in its infant stage, new legal and ethical questions are already popping up.
Meta CEO Mark Zuckerberg describes this world as “an immersive, embodied internet where you are in the experience.” The Metaverse is a new reality comprised of economic, entertainment, and other realities, all mixed into one world combing the virtual with the physical one. In other words, the Metaverse is the new Wild West, with no laws to protect users, even minors.
Currently, governments enforce rules of law in cyberspace, where online companies live. But a mixed reality blending commercial and social experiences would require a new spectrum of laws.
What are the legal ramifications, if any, for the creators of the Metaverse, as it pertains to virtual or augmented violence or sexism or racism, etc? Currently, the Metaverse, is predicted to the largest growing virtual universe in history, and minors are able to access that world at any time.
Another legal issue that will arise from the Metaverse is that users will most likely
experience personal data theft, beyond the typical hacking online users experience now. As an Avatar, your face, expressions, reactions, and other movements could be stolen or misused.
Although Avatars are indeed user-created creations in a virtual universe, behind every Avatar is a human being, which may lead to real-life rapes, theft, or even murder, among other violent actions.
As per Patel’s experience of being groped, this is problematic in the physical world as well, since users can use haptic clothing or gear, meaning they can feel the touch of others in real life.
Laws are needed to establish, in cases of real rape or groping for example, who would be at fault in a civil case. Would it be the creator of the Metaverse itself or would there need to be laws creating legal identities to each Avatar? And, what would the differences and liabilities be between a real person and its Avatar, if any?
The array of new laws needed for the Metaverse is astonishing. From consumer laws protecting users to antitrust laws to misinformation that can sway elections to the establishment of code as the primary language in the Metaverse, meaning there would be no links available to trace actions back to laws.
Patel, who called her experience “surreal” and a “nightmare” is not the first to report such violence among fellow Avatars in the Metaverse.
In December 2021, Verge published a critical report about the new program called Horizon Worlds, the first experience to go live in the Meta (aka Facebook) platform. Horizon Worlds, where Peta was attacked, is a system that allows you to play via the Meta platform with twenty others in the virtual space. Verge reported safety issues that since users will interact with total strangers and may be vulnerable to them. Verge reported that one of their vet's testers posted in the official Horizon Group on Facebook aka Meta that her Avatar was groped by a stranger.
“Sexual harassment is no joke on the regular internet, but being in VR adds another layer that makes the event more intense,” the beta testa wrote. “Not only was I groped last night, but there were other people there who supported this behavior which made me feel isolated in the Plaza.”
Nonprofit research firm Center for Countering Digital Hate (CCHD), an organization that analyzes online data and misinformation, reports they spent almost twelve hours in the Metaverse and encountered one case of online hate or misinformation every seven minutes. The inappropriate actions include racism, abuse, hate, sexual content, homophobia, and misogyny, all among users who often were minors. In total, they found over 100 incidents of hate or misinformation during their twelve hours in the Metaverse, and recorded many on a special system to share with NBC News.
In response to numerous reports of violence in the Metaverse, Zuckerberg and other creators have added safety measures. Meta launched a new “personal setting” default that all avatars must stand almost four feet from one another.
As a result, Meta introduced a new default called “personal boundary” in its space, requiring avatars to stay nearly 4 feet apart from each other.
Meta spokesperson Nkechi Nneji said in an NBC interview that this new default “makes it easier to avoid unwanted interactions like this one, and we are sorry this happened.”
Patel said she is hopeful things will improve quickly, especially since minors are attracted to the Metaverse.
“They said things like, ‘Don’t pretend you don’t love it. This is why you came to this place,’” Patel recounted. “It was quite shocking that people are using this space to sexually harass and verbally harass people and act out their violent tendencies,” noting that when she’s been in these spaces before, she’s heard children’s voices.
With the Metaverse on the cusp of becoming mainstream, already filled with hate and misinformation, it is expected a parallel, the meta-legal world will soon follow, along with civil lawsuits.