BBefore getting into the metaverse, I had read some articles about it and people just didn’t have the nicest things to say. But I wanted to see if this was true, or if people were just trying to find the negativity. I’m a big social media user, so it’s a 3D virtual space where you can interact with other people – where artists perform concerts and fashion houses put on shows? It’s exciting to me!
But within the first 10 minutes of putting on a VR headset and entering a chat room, I saw underage kids mimicking oral sex on each other. I was a victim of sexual harassment, racist jokes and rape. Once, I heard someone say, “I like little girls from 9 to 12: that’s the thing for me.
I ran into a user who was spitting out the most disgusting language I’ve ever heard, to the point where we couldn’t even broadcast what he was saying. I speak extreme Racism – hate speech, listing the types of people he hated, and the types of people he wanted to kill. It was very violent. And all of this happened in a room that I had access to despite using a profile that I listed as being 13.
It got to the point where I really started to worry about how bad our documentary was going to be made. I knew we needed balance, so I found myself trying really hard to find good things to hold on to. But the bad things kept coming up thick and fast. I did not Order Which From it, I just found it in that space.
I went to chat rooms and people were scolding me, actually yelling at me. Once, seven users surrounded me and tried to force me to remove the security shield so they could do things with my body. I tried to escape, but they pressed me against the wall, trying to catch me, and made sexual comments. It was the ostensible equivalent of sexual assault.
I know it’s not real, but when you wear these headphones, you really feel there – you can hear their real voices, and everywhere you move your head, the world is traveling with you. It tricks your brain into thinking you’re really experiencing it. I forgot it’s not real. It’s very scary.
The biggest problem is the difficulty of reporting this type of behavior. You need names, identities and some kind of proof. But when you witness something that bothers you, your first thought isn’t necessarily, “Let me record this conversation so I can report it and they can take action.” The way they expect you to complain is meaningless. I just asked myself: Do I feel like I can protect myself in this environment? Can a normal user? Can children? And now: No, I don’t think they can.
With this profile I set at 13, I was able to access all kinds of things I wasn’t supposed to have. I was using an app that says it’s suitable for kids 7 and up, but I kept going through rooms where people were spinning and fiddling and pretending to have sex. Users over the age of 13 must not have access to this room. Children under the age of seven years must not have access to this room. But as things stand, they can.
The worst part is how numb you get. The volatile way people have used hyper-violent, homophobic, racist, and sexist language means that after my third or fourth dive into the metaverse, I became insensitive to it. You can see this happen with other people, too. There were rooms where the most racist conversations were taking place, and the other people were just relaxed, not paying attention. It is a space in which to normalize.
When people act like they sexually assault you, I know it’s not real. I get it – I can’t really feel them touching me. But these people are in their homes, and they physically engage in this sexual assault – using their hands to grab you or push you against a wall.
It breaks the wall between real and virtual behaviour. If they’re nice and quiet about sexually abusing people online, and if that’s something they keep doing and get rid of, then what’s stopping them from doing it? Do it in the real world?
When I got to the apps, they explained how trust and security are at the core of their business. They claim to be working hard to tweak their platforms (Meta offers parental controls, for example) and create a welcoming environment. One of them explained that minor users are not allowed to create accounts.
There is no doubt that some metaverse apps are better at editing content than the ones I’ve tried. But the truth is that we need legal change. There is an Internet security bill coming, and it needs to hold the creators of this technology more accountable. Many of these chat rooms are user generated content, at this time it is the users’ responsibility to manage the content. Given how toxic the environment is and how badly you’re dealing with it, it seems impossible – like trying to clean up the ocean.
I don’t think it’s an exaggeration to ask that when I enter metaverse, I don’t experience racial abuse. I don’t think it’s an exaggeration to ask you to do something about covering your product with 1-star ratings on the App Store, considering it baby-lovers’ heaven. And I don’t think it’s an exaggeration to ask that it be safe enough that people like me don’t have to make documentaries about how dangerous your products are.