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Is the metaverse dangerous? A deeper look into virtual groping

metaverse, woman

The network of virtual reality space, also known as “The Metaverse,” is experiencing some serious pushback as dangerous abuse against women has surfaced as a problem.

The metaverse is where people can feel invincible. However, it left some women vulnerable.

Sexual harassment in the metaverse

Many women speak about being sexually harassed in the Metaverse. A beta user was verbally and sexually harassed on Facebook/Meta’s VR platform, Horizon World.

Nina Jane Patel, 43, shares her unfortunate experience. Patel was confronted by 3-4 male avatars in seconds of logging in. They assaulted her avatar, took pictures, and yelled -“don’t pretend you didn’t love it,” and “go rub yourself off to the photo.”

This dangerous experience in the metaverse traumatized Patel.

“It was surreal. It was a nightmare.”

Nina Jane Patel

It’s not real-life. Why is the metaverse dangerous? 

Harassment should be taken seriously no matter what. The reality is virtual, but the humans behind the avatars are real.

As virtual reality becomes more immersive, users’ experience becomes more real. This experience isn’t a new phenomenon. In 2016 Jordan Belami wrote about her experience being groped in virtual reality. 

Belami fell in with virtual reality. She was immersed in a world where nothing could touch her.

She could walk off ledges, fight zombies, and take in-game damage, but nothing would happen to her physical body. What started out as a pleasant rush of excitement, conquering her fear of heights, soon turned grim. 

Another player in the game recognized her feminine voice and began to inappropriately touch Belami’s avatar. She kept trying to escape the player’s harassment. However, they wouldn’t stop. Belami became frustrated and scared. 

“Remember that little digression I told you about how the hundred-foot drop looked so convincing? Yeah. Guess what. The virtual groping feels just as real. Of course, you’re not physically being touched, just like you’re not actually one hundred feet off the ground, but it’s still scary as hell.” 

Jordan Belami

The metaverse is a second life for users. It is becoming more immersive and real each year. The lack of consequences within VR has inspired some users to be abusive and dangerous in the metaverse. 

What is AI abuse? 

Men are not only abusing real-life wife women in the Metaverse. Male users are projecting their sexism onto female coded AI. Most AI is female voiced and designed. Alexa, Siri, and Cortana are prime examples. This isn’t a coincidence. Studies show that Female voices sound more pleasant. 

AI’s were designed to be pleasant and soothing. However, the comments towards them are the opposite. Dr. Sheryl Brahnam found that 10 to 50 percent of AI interactions are abusive. Men abusing female coded AI in the Metaverse has been such a phenomenon.

Before, Siri would respond passively towards verbal abuse enabling male users to act upon these toxic traits. Now she doesn’t respond.

Replika, an AI app designed to replicate human interaction, is making a transition into the Metaverse. Replikas AI is designed to be friendly to its users.

However, they have openly bragged about verbally abusing their virtual girlfriend. In a thread posted in the Replika subreddit, users shared transcripts of them verbally abusing their AI.

The male users would threaten to uninstall them, call them slurs, and have unsettling roleplay scenarios. 

Why does it matter? The Proteus Effect

In the Metaverse, users create their own avatar. Avatars aren’t just limited to a body. They can just be a character user-written. The Proteus Effect is a theory that came to light in the late 2000s by researchers at Stanford University.

Researchers found that users would mimic their virtual avatars in real-life— fashion, demeanor, and, yes, behavior. If a user were to consistently make their avatar act bad, these behaviors could possibly translate to real life. Dangerous in the metaverse could mean dangerous in the real world.

The Future of the Metaverse: Is it dangerous or not?

The Metaverse has been around for a long time but is now only coming into the mainstream. It’s easy to dismiss abuse in the Metaverse because “it’s not real.”

However, we forget how it can potentially impact the real world. While the Metaverse is not a physically real place, the humans shaping it are.