The expansion of metaverse technology is currently one of the most interesting developments in the world of tech. After Facebook recently announced rebranding to Meta Platforms, the concept seems to have become legitimized by both tech enthusiasts and business leaders. While it’s still too early to tell if the Metaverse will gain the same popularity as social media, the surge in investments toward virtual reality platforms seems to suggest tech leaders have a great deal of faith in the idea.
Although most metaverse platforms are currently in a testing phase, some early users are already experiencing some major issues. Specifically, sexual harrassment. According to a recent report by MIT Technology review, an early beta tester of Horizon Worlds (Meta’s VR platform) claims she was sexually assaulted while gaming in the virtual space. The user took to Facebook to explain how another participant virtually groped her, and how some witnesses seemed to support this behavior.
Officials with Meta Platforms were quick to acknowledge this issue, and pointed out users can deploy a “Safe Mode” feature to protect virtual avatars when users feel threatened. However, the incident is creating concerns about the future of metaverse usage in the business world, as well as whether or not this type of conduct is actually “real” and warrants punishment for offenders.
All of these issues are fairly complicated. For starters, virtual reality is extremely different from other forms of online interaction. With VR technology, users are becoming more immersed in virtual environments, making online activity more personal and interactive from the users perspective. With graphics and imaging becoming more realistic every year, the tech could eventually become indistinguishable from reality. On the other hand, some may claim virtual experiences are simply fiction, and shouldn’t be compared to interactions in the real world.
Luckily, most metaverse platforms are still in development, so creators have time to work out the flaws before officially launching. There are a number of potential solutions to keeping users safe, while also maintaining an enjoyable virtual experience for users. For instance, metaverse developers can simply make users unable to touch other users all together, guaranteeing sexual misconduct issues are never a possibility in VR settings. Strict rules of conduct can force users to remain respectful, or face being suspended or banned from the platform. Virtual bots could be deployed to patrol virtual settings, similar to real-world police, so users can report instances of misconduct immediately after they happen.
Developers need to ensure well-rounded safety measures are in place before going live, regardless of what some consider “real” or “fiction”. If platform creators want their projects to be prominent as social media sites, rules of conduct need to be firmly established before officially launching.
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