If you weren’t suspicious of Mark Zuckerberg’s metaverse fever dream already, you might be once you learn that the digital world will probably be very popular with child predators.
While Horizon Worlds, the virtual reality app from the Meta-formerly-known-as-Facebook, is ostensibly limited to adults 18 years or older, that’s not the case in practice. In fact, reviews of the app are rife with complaints of young children pestering adult users.
Sarah Gardner, vice president of external affairs at children’s digital safety nonprofit Thorn, told The Washington Post that sexual predators "are often among the first to arrive" when a new online forum that’s popular with children such as this emerges.
"They see an environment that is not well protected and does not have clear systems of reporting," Gardner told the newspaper. "They’ll go there first to take advantage of the fact that it is a safe ground for them to abuse or groom kids."
The problem seems to stem from two big factors. First, there’s the fact that children are able to easily access the app.
Horizon Worlds requires a Facebook account from a user who’s at least 18 years old to log on via an Oculus Quest headset. However, kids often use their parents’ account to easily gain access, or lie about their age.
Then there’s the fact that Meta is doing woefully little to enforce the age restrictions despite becoming "a metaverse company," as Zuckerberg vaguely put it. Coupled with the fact that there have already been numerous instances of sexual assault on the platform, it doesn’t look like the company is doing nearly enough to protect its adult users, let alone young ones.
The company does insist that it’ll "continue to look at how people use Quest devices and how the product develops in making decisions about our policies," Meta spokesperson Kristina Milian told the Post.
"Our goal is to make Horizon Worlds and Horizon Venues safe, and we are committed to doing that work," she added.
So while the metaverse offers an intriguing — if half baked — glimpse into a new form of digital interaction, it still carries the toxic baggage and problems of the old web. If that doesn’t change, then what’s really the point?
READ MORE: Kids are flocking to Facebook’s ‘metaverse.’ Experts worry predators will follow. [The Washington Post]
More on the metaverse: Famous Marketing Professor Calls Facebook’s Metaverse a “Flaming Bag of S**t”