A beta tester for a new VR platform from Meta – formerly Facebook – claims she was virtually “groped” while using the platform, Horizon Worlds. The incident took place on November 26th, but was not revealed by the company until December 1st.
How Will Meta Regulate Users’ Behavior?
The woman who reported the assault shared her experience on the Horizon Worlds beta testing Facebook group page. “Sexual harassment is no joke on the regular internet, but being in VR adds another layer that makes the event more intense,” she wrote, according to The Verge. “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 [the virtual world’s gathering place].”
Horizon Worlds is being advertised as a digital escape, a place to “create in extraordinary ways” and “find experiences that matter” with your avatar friends. Many are wondering how the company plans to regulate the behavior of the users so assaults like this won’t happen.
In a statement about the incident, Meta said that there is a “Safe Zone” feature that allows users to block others from interacting with them. However, this seems like it would only be useful after the fact. The company did admit that, while the Safe Zone feature is available, it needs to work on making it “trivially easy and findable.”
Many Feel The Safety Measures Are Not Enough
Kristina Millian, a spokesperson for Meta, told the MIT Technology Review that users are required to complete training that covers safeguarding tools like the Safe Zone before joining Horizon Worlds. There are also reminders that prompt users while they are on the platform.
Some are saying that these safety measures are not enough. Katherine Cross, a Ph.D. student researcher of online harassment at the University of Washington, said, “Generally speaking, when companies address online abuse, their solution is to outsource it to the user and say, ‘Here, we give you the power to take care of yourselves.’”
“At the end of the day, the nature of virtual-reality spaces is such that it is designed to trick the user into thinking they are physically in a certain space, that their every bodily action is occurring in a 3-D environment,” she continued. However, Meta says that it’s “never a user’s fault if they don’t use all the features we offer,” and that they will continue to “improve” the platform.