Woman groped by stranger on Meta’s virtual reality social media platform

Breadcrumb Trail Links World News Polarizing opinions were discussed on message boards surrounding the legitimacy

Polarizing opinions were discussed on message boards surrounding the legitimacy of virtual groping

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On Dec. 9, social media giant Meta, formerly known as Facebook, launched an early version of its newest virtual reality social media platform, Horizon Worlds. The premise of the platform revolves around creating a virtual space for avatars to hang out, socialize, and build personalized spaces within the sphere of VR.


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According to Meta, however, on Nov. 26, an anonymous female beta tester published a post on the Horizon Worlds Facebook page recounting her experienced being groped by a stranger in virtual reality.

“Sexual harassment is no joke on the regular internet, but being in VR adds another layer that makes the event more intense,” she wrote. “Not only was I groped last night, but there were other people there who supported this behaviour which made me feel isolated in the Plaza.”

After internally reviewing the incident, Meta determined that the user should have utilized a tool called “Safe Zone”— a safety feature made available for cases like this. When activated, Safe Zone prompts a protective bubble when users feel threatened, preventing anyone from touching them, talking to them, or interacting in anyway until they feel safe enough to disable the feature.


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Vivek Sharma, Vice president of Horizons, tells The Verge that the incident is “absolutely unfortunate”.

A similar case occurred in 2016 when gamer Jordan Belamire wrote an open letter on Medium detailing her account of being groped in Quivr, a zombie-shooting VR action game.

“In between a wave of zombies and demons to shoot down, I was hanging out next to BigBro442, waiting for our next attack. Suddenly, BigBro442’s disembodied helmet faced me dead-on. His floating hand approached my body, and he started to virtually rub my chest,” she recounts.

“‘Stop!’ I cried … This goaded him on, and even when I turned away from him, he chased me around, making grabbing and pinching motions near my chest. Emboldened, he even shoved his hand toward my virtual crotch and began rubbing. There I was, being virtually groped in a snowy fortress with my brother-in-law and husband watching.”


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A review of the case published in the journal for the Digital Games Research Association found that many online responses to Balmire’s post were dismissive of the claim. Discussions surrounding the legitimacy of the incident of whether or not it could actually be considered groping if it was not physical, plagued message boards thereafter.

Jesse Fox, an Ohio State University associate professor who researches the social implications of virtual reality, firmly believes in its legitimacy.

“I think people should keep in mind that sexual harassment has never had to be a physical thing,” she tells MIT Technology Review. “It can be verbal, and yes, it can be a virtual experience as well.”

Another researcher, Katherine Cross, specializing in online harassment at the University of Washington, says that since virtual reality is immersive and real in nature, harmful behaviour that occurs in that environment is also real.

“At the end of the day, the nature of virtual-reality spaces is such that it is designed to trick the user into thinking they are physically in a certain space, that their every bodily action is occurring in a 3D environment,” she says to MIT Technology Review. “It’s part of the reason why emotional reactions can be stronger in that space, and why VR triggers the same internal nervous system and psychological responses.”



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