Sexual violence and unpunished crimes, freewheeling metaverses

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Sexual violence and unpunished crimes, freewheeling metaverses

YT screenshot of Horizon Worlds trailer Multiple avatars in Meta's metaverse, Horizon Worlds.

In full expansion, the various metaverses, parallel universes accessible in augmented or virtual reality, often described as the future of the internet, offer everyone the possibility of living a second life – this was the promise of < em>Second Lifein 2003 – in a digital world. Neither one nor two, we are already observing a virtual version of human behavior, for better and, above all, for worse.

“Sexually assaulted” online

At the end of May, the American NGO SumOfUs published a report entitled “Metaverse: another cesspool of toxic content”. Sent to Horizon Worlds, virtual reality social network developed by Meta (formerly Facebook), to study the behavior of Internet users, a 21-year-old researcher had a disturbing experience there: a “rape” virtual.


I think that we should especially worry about impressionable and psychologically fragile people.

Valérie Sellam-Benisty

In a video posted online, we see quite clearly a first male avatar camera in hand, and we guess, listening to them, that he is filming his friend, himself miming a sexual relationship with the avatar of the researcher. “Watch this! It's a free show!”, shouts the second into his microphone, before the cameraman decides to hand a bottle of alcohol to the young woman, throwing at her:“You're going to need more, little one!”< /p>

If all this is not real, note that this is not an isolated case and that some psychoanalysts have seen fit to note the immersive nature of the metaverse, which can be impressive. Marianne reports the words of Valérie Sellam-Benisty, a lawyer specializing in sexual assault: “I think that we must especially worry about impressionable and psychologically fragile people.”

In addition, the newspaper recalls that Second Life ” was already the subject of reports for sexual harassment and child pornography involving avatars”. Hunt the natural…

Criminal responsibility and control in virtual worlds

Still on Horizon Worlds, the site evokes ” some recurring cases of toxicity”. Furthermore, it emphasizes “total legal vagueness regarding the possibility of committing virtual crimes and misdemeanors”.

On this subject, on May 25, it was Omar Sultan Al Olama, Minister of State for artificial intelligence in the United Arab Emirates, which gave voice: “In a world as realistic as the one we are talking about with the metaverse, if I murder you… it leads to a certain extreme against which we must fight aggressively, because everyone agrees that some things are unacceptable”, reports CNBC. In short, rules are needed.

While the legal contours are still vague (we cannot speak of “rape” without real contact), each metaverse editor has, nevertheless, technical means to prevent these unhealthy drifts. This is also the advantage of digital: everything is possible. In a few clicks, everyone should be able to create a protective perimeter around their avatar, choosing who can enter it or not (with the usual list of friends, for example).

At the end of 2021, after the return of a user who had reported having been touched, via her avatar, Vivek Sharma, the development manager of Horizon Worlds, wanted to ensure the good faith of the group by putting in front of the “Block” and “Report” buttons, underlined Le Figaro. It remains to be seen whether the positive aspects of the metaverses will prevail on these (re)born excesses from which we must already protect ourselves.