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

NurPhoto via Getty Images The Facebook logo displayed on a phone screen and the Horizon logo displayed on a laptop screen can be seen in this 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 major project. Metaverse is a virtual world created by Mark Zuckerberg’s American company, which recently changed its official name to “Meta”. A kind of parallel universe, which the general public should be able to access thanks to virtual reality headsets that will allow them to fully immerse themselves in new online spaces, to work there or involve other people.

But this future of the Internet may not be good for half of humanity. In any case, this is what the journalist Parmy Olson of Bloomberg Opinion fears in an article published on December 15. The columnist previously managed to test the first versions of Facebook’s Metaverse for two weeks, and what he experienced as a woman, she says, sometimes it is “not very comfortable”. “What does social virtual reality look like? Think games put together in crazy, old-school internet chat rooms: chaotic, experimental, and mostly male-dominated. There are trolls and naughty kids,” he said.

A “crawling place with children” …

On Thursday, December 9, Meta opened the doors of its Horizon Worlds virtual reality social platform to anyone over the age of 18 in the United States or Canada. Before that, Parmy Olson was able to explore his predecessor, Horizon Venues, a place “filled with children” according to him – and this while Facebook applications are theoretically inaccessible to those child under 13 years old.

In his attempts to socialize with avatars of strangers in virtual reality, the journalist says that he faced many “sorrows” : mostly young and immature players who intentionally annoy or even harass other users. Early in his adventure, an adult male avatar with the voice of a “boy under 10” fearfully yells at him what amounts to an obscenity. Another fakes an incessant cough, grins and says, “Sorry! I have Covid”.

… with “more men than women”

During his virtual epic, he took part in “a concert, a church service, a conference and a speed dating event”. Although the promise of discovering people from all over the world is there (Israeli, Bulgarian, etc.), the journalist also says that he has met very few women.

An observation he noticed when he arrived Horizon Areas, during the first dating experience. Her female avatar is then taken to a main hall, “a vast room with a trunk in the middle”, where she is “the only woman among a dozen men”.

What he did not fail to tell them by asking “there are more men than women here, aren’t there?”. A small group of male avatars circled her quietly to take pictures of her before offering her the shots one by one. An experience he described as “humiliating”, where he felt “a bit like a specimen”.

This raises the question of managing this new medium based on virtual reality interactions that are richer and more immersive than behind the keyboard. “There seem to be few measures to prevent bad behavior” regrets the journalist, although there are tools that make it possible to block and mute the microphone of problematic users.

Difficult moderation

“My conclusion is that many of the challenges Zuckerberg faces on social media, such as banning children and preventing bullying, may also trouble him in the metaverse,” Parmy Olson reported in his post.

Moderating these VR universes will be a big challenge for Meta going forward. While thousands of moderators work tirelessly on Facebook and Instagram to remove hate, misinformation, and other posts, moderating Metaverse user behavior promises to be more difficult.

In fact, in the virtual world it is not enough to identify messages, photos or videos and moderate content – something that Facebook does not need to do properly worldwide. But in Metaverse, it is also necessary to analyze the oral language or the movements performed live, which can be very complex to moderate.

Meta has already warned that “trained security specialists” can isolate and log any incident if necessary. But is this enough to avoid problematic interactions with the Metaverse?

See also at The HuffPost: Meta: Facebook’s metaverse worries as much as it interests

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