A non-profit organization report describes the case in detail, revealing the sordid nature of the situation. The woman points out that she felt completely “disoriented”. An expert considers that a virtual event can generate “great confusion” and “emotion” in the victim
What began as a study of user behavior in Horizon Worlds, the Facebook owner’s metaverse, quickly culminated in a rape and emotional experience that was as confusing as it was traumatic. A researcher entered Meta’s virtual space, but less than an hour later, her avatar was already breached, in a situation with sordid outlines.
The case was reported in the report “Metaverse: Another Pit of Toxic Content”, prepared by the non-profit organization SumOfUs, which is dedicated to solving issues such as human rights and the power of businesses.
As soon as she entered the Horizon Worlds virtual platform, the researcher, who used the Oculus virtual reality system (technology also acquired by Mark Zuckerberg), was invited to a private party with other users. In this space, they convinced her to deactivate a security tool which, when activated, prevents other avatars from approaching – other users are always more than a meter away.
With this security tool turned off, the woman was “taken to a private room” where the rape took place. The document describes the case in detail, revealing its sordid nature.
“She was taken to a private room where she was raped by a user who told her to turn her back on him so she could do it from behind while other users looked out the window – while a another user was in the room watching and passing a bottle of vodka.
The report includes a video that shows part of the scene, from the researcher’s perspective: a male avatar is seen approaching, another standing nearby, just watching, while a bottle of alcohol went between the two.
“The sex act was not consensual,” the organization said in the document. Although she was raped in the virtual world, the investigator states in the report that she felt completely “disoriented”. Their controllers vibrated, simulating the sensations the avatar was experiencing online.
“It happened so fast that I was in a state of dissociation. Part of my brain thought ‘what’s going on’, another part thought it wasn’t a real body, while ‘another part thought it was something important for the investigation,’ he described.
Virtual rape: the “vulnerability” of the victim and the screen that “protects” the aggressor
Madalena Sofia Oliveira, specialist in psychosocial and forensic areas, with a focus on victimology, considers that we are facing an event which, even if it is only virtual, can be very “impactful” for the victim and “to generate a very great emotion”. ”. “It is something that goes against psychological and moral integrity, which generates great confusion and disorientation in the victim”, underlines the university professor at CNN Portugal.
This type of “toxic behavior” on online platforms, the expert points out, is often perpetrated by people who feel “protected by a screen”.
“There is a feeling of protection vis-à-vis the aggressor himself, who believes that it will have no consequences, that he cannot be identified, while the victim is left in a situation of great vulnerability”.
Meta, Facebook’s parent company, has bet heavily on the metaverse – an immersive virtual environment that seeks to replicate reality through various technologies such as virtual reality, augmented reality and the internet. In December, it launched Horizon Worlds for people over 18 and only in the United States and Canada, with 300,000 users.
Since then, the platform has been the target of numerous complaints, due to the violent nature of its content. Moreover, it was not the first time that a woman revealed to have been “raped” in this virtual space. Psychotherapist Nina Jane Patel shared on Medium what she described as the “surreal nightmare” of being the victim of a “gang rape” in Horizon Worlds.
Rape, sexual harassment, racist and homophobic insults: this is the virtual world of Facebook
In the report now published by SumOfUs, instances of sexual harassment are also highlighted not only in Horizon Worlds but in other virtual platforms owned by Meta. The New York Times newspaper had already reported the case of a surfer who had been “groped” in a shooting game by Mark Zuckerberg’s company. Racist and homophobic insults are also a constant, according to the organization.
The Facebook metaverse is a recent project that is not yet available in Portugal, but online violence is a cross-cutting issue when it comes to digital platforms. Madalena Sofia Oliveira believes that a “double look” is needed on these tools because of “the dangers associated with these new digital technologies”.
“The most important thing is that there is caution in the widespread use of these platforms,” the teacher told CNN Portugal.
Confronted with the metaverse’s violent content, Meta representative Kristina Milian tried to defuse the controversy, telling the MIT Technology Review that users should have a “positive experience and security tools are easy to find.” Even so, he noted that if the user doesn’t use these options, “it’s never your fault” and that the company’s goal is to continue “to improve the platform so that users can promptly report abuse”. “Our goal is to make Horizon Worlds safe and we are committed to achieving that,” he added.
However, cases of harassment and abuse on the platforms have already led two major Meta investors, Arjuna Capital and Storebrand Asset Management, to express their concerns about it. The companies even asked Meta to publish a report highlighting the dangers that users can face in virtual environments.
At a recent shareholders’ meeting, a proposal was also presented for an assessment, carried out by an external entity, of the “potential psychological, civil and human rights damages to users” of the platforms and how these “damages can be mitigated or avoided. However, the initiative was refused.