Woman claims she was ‘groped’ in Meta’s virtual reality metaverse

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A woman says she was “groped” in the metaverse by a fellow beta tester while working on Meta’s new platform Horizon Worlds.

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The beta tester revealed the incident happened last month, and reported the assault to the online game’s beta-testing Facebook group.

“Sexual harassment is no joke on the regular Internet, but being in VR adds another layer that makes the event more intense,” the woman told The Verge .

“Not only was I groped last night, but there were other people there who supported this behaviour which made me feel isolated in the Plaza,” the game’s central gathering space.

Safety is apparently a big concern for VR environments like Horizon Worlds , where interactions with strangers is a regular occurrence.

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Online harassment is commonplace, just ask the Sun’s writers, but the VR world isn’t as safe a space as one would assume.

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Meta suggests the beta tester should have used a tool called “Safe Zone,” a suite of safety features built into the platform, reported MIT Technology Review .

The feature works like a protective bubble users can activate whenever they feel threatened. Within the “Safe Zone,” a user can’t be touched, spoken to or interacted with until they are ready to shut off the blocking tool.

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The company does acknowledge that it needs to work on making the feature “trivially easy and findable,” Vivek Sharma, the vice-president of Horizon, told The Verge.

Horizon is described as “a social experience where you can explore, play and create in extraordinary ways,” a destination where you’re intended to feel comfortable and “not just a visitor.”

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But according to experts, sexual harassment in virtual reality is sexual harassment in real life.

“At the end of the day, the nature of virtual-reality spaces is such that it is designed to trick the user into thinking they are physically in a certain space, that their every bodily action is occurring in a 3-D environment,” Katherine Cross, a Ph.D. student researcher of 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 space, and why VR triggers the same internal nervous-system and psychological responses,” she explained.

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