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METAVERSE – This is Facebook’s latest major project. Metaverse is a virtual world developed by the American company Mark Zuckerberg, which has 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 immerse themselves fully in new online spaces, to work there or to join other people.
But this future of the Internet may prove unwelcome for half of humanity. At least that’s what journalist Parmy Olson from Bloomberg Opinion fears in an article published on December 15th. The columnist had previously been able to try out the first versions of Facebook’s Metaverse for two weeks, and what she experienced as a woman was, according to her, sometimes “very uncomfortable”. “What does social virtual reality look like? Imagine games combined with silly, old-school internet chat rooms: messy, experimental and often male-dominated. There are trolls and naughty kids,” she says.
I spent a few weeks mingling with strangers in the meta-verse to see what socializing was like in Mark Zuckerberg’s vision of the future.
It was fun, but also quickly became creepy when others noticed I was a woman. Social VR has some challenges ahead. https://t.co/OLJWbwUBq9
– Parmy Olson (@parmy) December 15, 2021
A “place that crawls with children” …
On Thursday, December 9, Meta opened the doors to its Horizon Worlds virtual reality social platform for anyone over the age of 18 in the United States or Canada. Before then, Parmy Olson was able to explore its predecessor, Horizon Venues, a place that “swims with kids” according to her – and this while Facebook applications in theory are not available to children under 13.
In her tests of social interactions with avatars of strangers in virtual reality, the journalist says she was confronted with many “mourning ” : often young and immature players spend their time deliberately annoying, even harassing, other users. From the beginning of his adventure, an adult male avatar with the voice of a “boy under 10” shouted feverishly at him, which was tantamount to obscenity. Another forged a relentless cough, giggled and said, “Sorry! I have Covid.”
… with “more men than women”
During her virtual epic, she attended “a concert, a worship 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 only met very few women.
An observation she noticed upon her arrival Horizon Venues, during a first dating experience. Her female avatar is then transported to a main hall, “a large room with a tree in the middle”, where she happens to be “the only woman among a dozen men”.
What she did not fail to tell them by asking “there are more men than women here, do not you think?”. The small group of male avatars had then surrounded her silently to take pictures of her before offering her the shots one by one. An experience she describes as “embarrassing”, where she felt “a bit like a copy”.
That which raises the question of the surveillance of this new medium based on virtual reality interactions that are much richer and more immersive than those we have behind a keyboard arises. “There seem to be few measures in place to prevent bad behavior,” the journalist regrets, although there are functionalities that make it possible to block and turn off the microphone of the problematic users.
“My conclusion was that many of the challenges that Zuckerberg faced on social media, such as banning children and controlling bullying, could also haunt him in the metaverse,” Parmy Olson reports in her post.
Moderating these VR universes will be a major challenge for Meta in the future. While thousands of moderators work non-stop across Facebook and Instagram to remove hate speech, misinformation and other posts, moderating Metaverse user behaviors becomes much more difficult.
In the virtual world, it is not enough to identify messages, images or videos and moderate problematic content – something that Facebook does not necessarily manage to do correctly all over the world. However, in Metaverset, it will also be necessary to analyze the oral language or gestures that have been brought to life, which can be even more complicated to moderate.
Meta already warns that its “trained security specialists” can isolate and log any incident if necessary. But will that be enough to avoid problematic interactions in Metaverset?
Also look at The HuffPost: Meta: Facebook’s metaverse worries as much as it interests