Racial, homophobic and sexual abuse is rampant on Facebook’s new Metaverse “virtual world”, a Channel 4 documentary has found.
"Have you ever been raped – tell me where you live and that just might come true?" and "get back to the fields cotton-picker" were among the comments made in the presence of journalist Yinka Bokinni who went undercover as a 22-year-old woman and a 13-year-old child in a report for Dispatches.
The Metaverse is Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg's pet project. Describing the platform as an opportunity to "live in the future", it represents virtual reality leap forward from social media and is accessed by headsets such as Facebook's own Oculus Quest 2 (over eight million sold worldwide).
And just like Facebook, the Metaverse allows users to explore using different apps. In her Dispatches report, Bokinni downloaded VR Chat (rated “PG”) and Rec Room (rated 7+ and with three million users).
“Within the first 10 minutes of putting on a VR headset and entering a chat room, I saw underage kids simulating oral sex on each other. I experienced sexual harassment, racism and rape jokes. At one point, I heard someone say “I like little girls from the age of nine to 12: that’s just my thing,” she wrote in the Guardian ahead of the broadcast on Tuesday night.
'It isn't okay to do it in a classroom or workplace – so why is it okay to do it in the Metaverse?'
"The metaverse is kind of like jumping inside a video game – it promises to be a 3D version of the internet," Tim Bradshaw, global technology correspondent with the Financial Times, told Channel 4.
Within seconds of entering Rec Room, Bokinni was surrounded by strangers, who asked her to turn off the safety bubble that prevented other users virtually “touching” her.
“I was being harassed by one user so I decided to block them,” she said. “Then other users started to surround me and sexually harass me while using racial slurs…I was being pressured to remove my safety bubble. It’s really intimidating.”
She then accessed the VR Chat app. “I’m racist as ****,” said one user. “It’s shocking, the level of racist, sexist and homophobic slurs flying around,” commented Bokinni. “Some are so extreme we can’t broadcast them ... the homophobia, the sexism, the racism – very, very casual … It’s like a bullying free-for-all.”
The behaviour was a clear breach of Meta and VR Chat's rules. She reported the abuse to VR Chat which said that, for "privacy reasons" it could not "discuss the results of the investigation".
“We continually invest in our moderation systems,” said Rec Room in a statement. “Users can limit the voices they hear to only Friends, Favourite Friends, their current Party or None.”
“Underage users are not permitted to register an account. If they lie about their age and are detected on our platform, they are immediately banned,” said VR Chat in a statement.
“It isn’t okay to do it in a classroom or workplace – so why is it okay to do it in the Metaverse?” asked Bokinni at the end of the broadcast. “I’m an adult and I’m overwhelmed and a bit scarred by what I’ve seen. It’s not a place you want kids to be in.”
Dispatches – Inside the Metaverse: Are you Safe? aired on Channel 4, April 25th at 8pm