Social VR is having to grow up fast. After numerous recent reports of sexual harassment in its Horizon Worlds and Horizon Venues products, Meta is adding something many will argue should have been there from the start: a personal boundary.
As the Verge explains:
The new feature… creates an invisible virtual barrier around avatars, preventing other people from getting too close — although you can apparently still stretch your arm out to give someone a fist-bump or high five.
The boundary system builds on an existing feature that could make users’ hands disappear if they got too close to another avatar… It gives everyone a two-foot radius of virtual personal space, creating the equivalent of four virtual feet between avatars.
You won’t be able to switch off the feature, as it’s designed to establish social norms of personal distance in VR, although Meta says the radius size might become customisable in the future.
But while the boundary should make social VR safer, it’s not entirely
safe. The Washington Post wrote
this week about how Horizon Worlds has plenty of users who are children, despite the fact that you’re supposed to be at least 18 to take part.
And while badly behaved kids running around can be annoying for adult users, they might also tempt predators to use Horizon Worlds and endanger those children.
Meanwhile, researchers with the Center for Countering Digital Hate published research this week that found frequent cases of racism, misogyny, sexual content and more in Horizon Worlds, often with children present.
NBC News quoted
the CEO of Center, who said: “I’m afraid that it’s incredibly dangerous to have kids in that environment… Honestly speaking, I’d be very nervous as a parent about having Mark Zuckerberg’s algorithms babysit my kids.”
Social VR is still in its early stages, but every little bit of ‘metaverse’ hype (look out for a Super Bowl ad
from Meta this weekend) nudges more people to try apps like Horizon Worlds. If they’re not entirely safe for mainstream usage, Meta might find its metaverse vision faces more resistance than it would like.