Facebook had a rough week. First, their stock lost $200 Billion in market value after earnings. Then they introduced a 4 foot personal boundary around all avatars in their metaverse due to an alleged sexual assault.
Horizon Worlds’ Alleged Sexual Assault Incident
Nina Jane Patel said she was sexually abused by four male avatars as she tested Facebook’s Horizon Worlds. According to Patel, “within 60 seconds of joining” she was “verbally and sexually harassed” by avatars “with male voices” that “essentially, but virtually gang raped” her avatar.
I assume many of you have yet to play Horizon Worlds. I personally don’t know of anyone who has any interest in it. Therefore, I have provided a picture of the avatars to the right.
Patel has not addressed the mechanics of a ‘virtual gang rape’ of a bottomless avatar, presumably due to the trauma. “In some capacity, my physiological and psychological response was as though it happened in reality,” Patel said.
At the time of the incidence, there was an optional ‘Safety Zone’ feature that could be switched on, but Patel was not quick enough to activate it in time.
Patel is is vice president of Metaverse Research at Kabuni Ventures, and certainly has nothing to gain from the allegation. Kabuni is the self-proclaimed “world’s safest metaverse for kids”. She has written numerous articles about Metaverse safety and preventing future abuse. She was also interviewed in a piece that ran across numerous news sites. Presumably, she has to suffer through the trauma for each article and is just being the heroine we need in the Metaverse. Patel appears to be the wife of the founder of Kabuni, which has a score of 21% / 2.3 stars on Glassdoor. A common complaint in the reviews is the CEO raising money through marketing, paying himself a large salary, and then asking workers to take an IOU.
There clearly is no alternative motive from Patel. Therefore, this heavy-handed reaction is the only choice for Meta.
Meta’s Horizon World Personal Boundary Feature
Facebook had previously added an optional personal boundary tool and safety zones. Additionally, the hands of avatars would vanish when entering an avatars personal space previously. This was not enough, apparently.
The new personal boundary will be turned on for all avatars and unable to be turned off. “We intentionally deploy Personal Boundary as always on, by default, because we believe it will help set standards for behavior — and that’s important for a relatively new medium like virtual reality,” Vivek Sharma, vice president of Horizon said.
The feature puts a 2-foot boundary around each avatar, creating 4-feet of space, in the company’s Horizon Worlds and Horizon Venues. This is done to “create more personal space” for users and “make it easier to avoiding unwanted interactions,” Horizon Worlds Vice President Vivek Sharma noted.
“If someone tries to enter your Personal Boundary, the system will halt their forward movement as they reach the boundary. You won’t feel it—there is no haptic feedback.”
If you were concerned, high fives & fist bumps will still be allowed by the extension of the hand. It is unclear if using this hand extension comes with a trigger warning for those who have experienced violence. Horizon World and Facebook have not explained if there will need to be a signed agreement between avatars to allow in-game high fives to ensure no trauma.
Conclusion on New Personal Boundary
This is not the metaverse we were promised.
Who wants to escape the 6-foot personal space of the world today to go into the 4-foot personal space of the metaverse?
What is next? Is Zuckerberg going to require avatars to wear masks when the next Patel says she was ‘essentially raped’ by the words an avatar spoke?
Should the avatars be behind protective plastic barriers in case the fist bump action seems too aggressive?
Horizon Worlds never looked interesting, but with the recent move to add personal boundaries, it seems unserious. Facebook’s metaverse sounds terrible, at least from a gaming customer’s perspective.
However, I could see how the business side would love the additional sanitization. If a corporation was to go to a metaverse office, you would want a sanitized world. You can’t have Karen calling HR every time some Boomer uncoordinatedly moved their avatar a little too close. What if the avatar’s hand brushed up against that “empty floating space where the butt should be”?
It is yet to be seen if Horizon Worlds is able to capture a significant amount of users. But Facebook having a tremendous budget and prior predatory behavior in buying out competitors, it is important to keep watch on what they do. If Meta adds new restrictions to Horizon Worlds every time some rich, 40+ year old woman with an agenda makes an outlandish claim, people will be taking off the headsets to escape to the real world.