A 21-year-old researcher working for the corporate accountability campaign group SumOfUs claimed that her character was sexually assaulted.
This was the first time that the researcher was putting on an Oculus headset to enter Meta’s virtual reality platform Horizon Worlds to study users’ behaviors. Her experiences and other drawbacks of the virtual world have been described in a report released by the non-profit advocacy group SumOfUs called “Metaverse: another cesspool of toxic content.”
SumOfUs claimed that the researcher was asked by other fellow users to disable her privacy setting, one which does not allow other users to get within 4 feet of her. She was then led to a private party in a separate room where a male avatar raped her while users outside the window could clearly see this unfolding in front of them. This all happened while there was another user in the same room, passing around a vodka bottle.
The report also talks about how the researcher noted that whenever another user touches you, the hand controllers vibrate which makes for a very disturbing experience even in the virtual world. “It happened so fast I kind of disassociated. One part of my brain was like wtf is happening, the other part was like this isn’t a real body, and another part was like, this is important research.”
This is not the first time Horizon Worlds is facing this kind of heat as previously when the app was in beta testing, a tester stated that her avatar was groped and she suggested the company better mechanisms to prevent and report such situations. This did not go anywhere, as the company instead called her out for inadequate use of the personal safety features. Not just Horizon Worlds, but users of other VR platforms too have had similar experiences. From Population One (meta-owned) to Echo VR (meta-owned), users have talked about such experiences happening to them within a few minutes of them accessing the platforms. VR users have also reported other problems pertaining to racial slurs, verbal abuse, sexual harassment, gun violence, and much more.
Amidst these reports of harassment, apps like Horizon Worlds have started to implement safety features such as a personal safety bubble. These come in addition to other already existing features such as allowing people to block, mute, or report others. Responding to the SumOfUs report, a Meta representative told The Daily Mail that they never recommend turning off your safety feature around people you don’t know.