Beta tester claims she was virtually ‘groped’ in Meta’s virtual reality metaverse.
In the visual reality metaverse platform -Horizon Worlds from Meta, the firm formerly known as Facebook, a beta tester claimed she was virtually “groped.” On December 1, Meta revealed the event stating that it occurred on November 26.
In the Horizon Worlds beta testing Facebook group, the woman reported the assault. she stated “Sexual harassment is no joke on the conventional internet, but being in visual reality adds another dimension that makes the event more traumatic,” according to the Verge.
“Not only was I groped last night but there were others there who encouraged it, making me feel lonely in the Plaza,” the virtual environment’s principal meeting spot.
According to a 2020 Pew Research poll, “severe” online harassment episodes — such as physical threats, stalking, and “repeated” harassment — are on the rise with the number of users reporting such occurrences rising from 15% in 2014 to 25% currently. While much of it happens on social media, virtual reality is still in its infancy and has already been used to harass people.
Horizon Worlds is advertised as a pleasant, productive digital retreat, a place to “create in exceptional ways” and “discover experiences that matter” with your avatar pals, and is administered by the visual reality business Oculus which is also owned by Meta. Currently, the platform can accommodate up to 20 participants in a single virtual session.
In its statement on the event, Meta cited its “Safe Zone” feature which allows users to limit interaction with other users. Vivek Sharma, the vice president of Horizon admitted that the company needs to work on making the feature “trivially easy and findable.”
Users are expected to undergo training that covers safeguarding tools before entering Horizon Worlds, according to Meta spokeswoman Kristina Milian, and reminders are prompted during users’ encounters. Experts have stated that sexual harassment in virtual reality is the same as sexual harassment in real life.
“At the end of the day, virtual reality spaces are designed to trick the user into believing they are physically in a certain space, that their every bodily action is taking place in a 3-D environment,” Katherine Cross, a Ph.D. student researcher on online harassment at the University of Washington told MIT Technology Review.
“It’s part of the reason why emotional reactions can be stronger in that area and why virtual reality elicits the same underlying nervous-system and psychological responses,” she said.
Those who have been sexually harassed in virtual reality elsewhere feel Meta’s Safe Zone feature is insufficient. Meta’s Milian insisted that it’s “never a user’s fault” if they don’t use all of the platform’s functions, and that the company will continue to “enhance” it.
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