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Researcher ‘raped’ in metaverse

An NGO complained of homophobic slurs, gun violence, drugs laid out on a table, and a user stalking a researcher and following her into different worlds

A researcher from an NGO called SumOfUs has alleged that they experienced assorted abuse and violence on the Meta-owned Horizon Worlds metaverse platform. A report titled “Metaverse: another cesspool of toxic content” posted by the NGO says that their virtual reality experience involved racial abuse, gun violence and even rape.

The report deplored the absence of moderation on the platform, describing it as a “breeding ground for harmful content”.

“Within a few minutes of logging into the platform, SumOfUs researchers experienced homophobic slurs, gun violence (including a shoot out at a house party), drugs laid out on a table, and a user the researcher and following her into different worlds,” the report read. The NGO backed up its allegations by posting in-game footage of the behaviour.

One of the researchers, a young woman using an avatar with a woman’s voice and appearance, claimed she was ‘raped’ by a user, while others watched. The experience was described as “disorienting” and “confusing” by the researcher.

“About an hour into using the platform, a SumOfUs researcher was led into a private room at a party where she was raped by a user who kept telling her to turn around so he could do it from behind while users outside the window could see – all while another user in the room watched and passed around a vodka bottle,” the report says.

Meta, however, tried to pin the blame for the incident on the researcher herself, pointing out that she had disabled a safety feature that prevented other users from getting too close to someone else’s avatar.

“In Horizon Worlds, the personal boundary is set as ‘on’ by default at almost 4ft for non-friends to make it easier to avoid unwanted interactions,” a Meta spokesperson told Mail Online. “We ’t recommend turning off the safety feature with people you do not know.”

While the NGO’s report admitted that the researcher had indeed turned the feature off, it claimed she was “encouraged and instructed by another user” to do so, and the interaction “quickly spiralled into sexual harassment”.

The “personal boundary” has been a feature on the metaverse since early February, before which users had reported inappropriate behaviour, sexual harassment, “groping” and even “gang rape” on the Horizon virtual reality platform. Horizon Worlds beta tester Nina Jane Patel had reported the most-recalled incident where she was virtually “groped” by “three to four male avatars, with male voices”. The tester later escalated her accusations to “gang rape”, insisting that the hostile avatars had “essentially, but virtually gang-raped my avatar and took photos”.

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