Community Guest Post by Jori Hamilton firstname.lastname@example.org
“Metaverse” is the hot, new buzzword sweeping its way across the internet. Though the term is technically not new, having originally appeared in a 90s sci-fi novel, it is just now gaining traction and becoming a reality—or rather, a virtual reality. However, despite the buzz and excitement of this new frontier of the internet and the ushering in of Web 3.0, many people have concerns about the safety and inclusivity of this new virtual landscape.
The queer community is feeling particularly uneasy about the whole situation as there have already been some grim reports of harassment by beta testers within these virtual spaces. Unfortunately, Facebook—a company notorious for its abysmal track record with harassment and hate speech—is among those leading the charge with its new VR social platform, Horizon Worlds.
Understandably, some queer communities think it may be wise to simply avoid the metaverse altogether to protect themselves. However, as this virtual landscape gains in popularity, it will eventually become a major part of our lives as a society, just as social media has. Meaning it will be quite difficult to avoid. Thus, the better move, perhaps, would be for those within the LGBTQ community to stand up and fight for better policies and inclusivity now to help make the metaverse a safe haven for queer people in the future.
Though there is no set definition, as the metaverse can represent many things to different people, it is essentially a rich, virtual world that carries some likeness to the real world, where individuals can perform a variety of actions and activities. They can shop, work, play, socialize—basically do just about anything, similar to what humans do in real life.
In most cases, people interact within these virtual spaces by donning VR goggles and “playing” as a digital avatar of themselves. And this is where the issue for queer people comes into play. Just as someone might in the real world, people can control their avatar and have it touch other avatars without consent, chase them around, and even use their words to harass them. Though some might say that it’s not true harassment because it “isn’t real,” sexual harassment is sexual harassment, whether it’s happening in a physical or virtual space.
In response to initial harassment reports from beta users, Meta—Facebook’s new company that is putting out these VR social platforms—announced the creation of a new feature to protect users from harassment. This Personal Boundary feature, as Meta calls it, allows users to turn on a four-foot “buffer” zone around their avatar, which will keep another person’s avatar from getting too close.
However, in true Facebook fashion, this feature doesn’t actually solve the problem and acts more like a bandaid being placed over a gaping wound. Sure, it prevents users from touching other users’ avatars without consent, but they can still chase them around and shout obscenities and make lewd comments from four feet away.
There have been countless other reports since these virtual social spaces have launched in the metaverse, including one user reporting having been “virtually gang raped” upon logging in. In short, this shows just how much of a nightmare the metaverse will be for the queer community if something more is not done.
Despite these harrowing accounts of sexual harassment, the metaverse does have the power to be a welcoming safe space for the queer community. The key is to hire more LGBTQ people to help build these virtual reality spaces to ensure they are inclusive and have better protections in place from the start. The world is diverse, LGBTQ families and individuals are diverse, and if the metaverse is meant to be a sort of simulation of the real world, then it too needs to be more diverse and inclusive.
Though most of these metaverse social spaces are still in beta testing, it won’t be long before the metaverse is widely used and available to everyone. This means it is essential to start taking steps now to stop harassment from happening and to build safer, more inclusive virtual spaces. This can be done by doing the following:
Again, the best way to ensure queer people have a place in the metaverse is for queer people to be a part of the process from the ground level. This means more LGBTQ people should seek out jobs with companies that are creating these virtual worlds, but companies as well need to be more inclusive in their hiring processes.
Young, queer children will be particularly susceptible to harassment within the metaverse. So parents must be involved and closely monitor their kids’ activities within these virtual spaces. Often, many parents will leave their children to their own devices when they play their video games, but in this case, it is a must for them to pay closer attention and report anything that happens. The more parents report and show their dislike for what is happening; the more companies are likely to take notice and do something about the sexual harassment.
One of the best ways to build a safe space in the metaverse is for queer individuals to stand up as leaders within their communities. If the changes you want to see aren’t happening, then perhaps you need to be the one to stand up and do something about it. Of course, we should be mindful not to place all of the burdens on the queer community—companies and organizations too need to set a good example as leaders for the LGBTQ community. But it is also important for queer individuals to speak up and make their voices heard as well to push for change and inspire those around them.
Just as there are support groups in the real world, the queer community needs to establish support groups within the metaverse as well. Support and community are some of the most powerful things that can make or break someone’s experience. So to protect queer people in the metaverse and provide them with a safe space where they can explore, socialize, and connect, it is necessary to build safe communities and support groups within these virtual spaces.
If there is to be hope for the metaverse and a future where everyone is accepted, we must fight hard for inclusivity and acceptance in all spaces, both the physical and the virtual. And this doesn’t just mean having people within the queer community do all the work. Companies, too, must do better to show their support and hire more queer teams to build these virtual spaces to ensure they are genuinely safe and welcoming for all individuals.