an ‘awkward’ place for women, first-time user says

NurPhoto via Getty Images The Facebook logo displayed on a phone screen and the Horizon logo displayed on a laptop are seen in this illustration photo taken in Krakow, Poland on October 20, 2021. (Photo by Jakub Porzycki/NurPhoto via Getty Images)

NurPhoto via Getty Images

METAVERSE – This is Facebook’s latest big project. Metaverse is a virtual world developed by the American company Mark Zuckerberg, which recently changed its official name to “Meta”. A kind of parallel universe that the general public should be able to access thanks to virtual reality headsets that allow them to fully immerse themselves in new online spaces, to work there or join other people.

But this future of the Internet may turn out to be unwelcoming for half of humanity. At least that’s what journalist Parmy Olson of Bloomberg Opinion fears in an article published on December 15. The columnist had previously been able to try 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 obnoxious kids,” she says.

A “place that crawls with children”…

On Thursday, December 9, Meta opened the doors to its Horizon Worlds virtual reality social platform to anyone over the age of 18 in the US or Canada. Before then, Parmy Olson was able to explore its predecessor, Horizon Venues, a place that “swimming with children” according to her – and this while Facebook applications are theoretically not accessible to children under 13 years old.

In her tests of social interactions with avatars of strangers in virtual reality, the journalist says she was confronted with many “grieving” : often young and immature players spend their time deliberately annoying, even harassing, other users. Early in his adventure, an adult male avatar with the voice of a “boy under 10” frantically shouted what amounted to an obscenity at him. Another faked an incessant cough, giggled and said: “Sorry! I have Covid”.

… with “more men than women”

During her virtual epic, she attended “a concert, a church service, a conference and a speed-dating event”. Although the promise of discovering people from all over the world was there (Israeli, Bulgarian, etc.), the journalist also notes that she 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, don’t you think?”. The small group of male avatars had then silently surrounded her 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 specimen”.

What 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” laments the journalist, although there are functionalities that allow to block and mute the microphone of the problematic users.

Difficult moderation

“My conclusion was that many of the challenges Zuckerberg faced on social media, like banning kids and controlling bullying, could also haunt him in the metaverse,” reports Parmy Olson in his post.

Moderation of these VR universes will be a big challenge for Meta going forward. While thousands of moderators work non-stop across Facebook and Instagram to remove hateful, misinformation and other posts, moderating Metaverse user behavior promises to be 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. But in the Metaverse, it will also be necessary to analyze the spoken language or the gestures made alive, 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 the Metaverse?

Also look at The HuffPost: Meta: Facebook’s metaverse worries as much as it interests

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