A woman claims she was virtually "groped" in a virtual reality world, and an investigation has been launched. A female believes she was the victim of sexual harassment while testing out a virtual world from Meta – the company formerly known as Facebook.
The alleged victim was a beta tester on the VR platform "Horizon Worlds" – a "social experience where you can explore, play and create." The virtual world allows users to "design worlds of your own or get to know other members of the community and be inspired by their creations." The virtual reality metaverse offers "interactive puzzles" and "action-packed games."
The woman claims she was virtually "groped" during the testing period on Nov. 26.
Tech blog The Verge was the first to report the incident:
Safety is a big concern for a VR environment like Horizon Worlds, where you can easily interact with someone you don’t know. Earlier this month, a beta tester posted in the official Horizon group on Facebook about how her avatar was groped by a stranger. “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 behavior which made me feel isolated in the Plaza.”
Following the woman's allegation that she was virtually "groped," Meta launched an investigation into the incident. The company – formerly known as Facebook – determined that the tester did not activate a safety feature designed to prevent harassment on the platform.
Vivek Sharma – Meta's Vice President of Horizon – called the incident "absolutely unfortunate," and admitted that the tech company needs to work on making the safety blocking feature "trivially easy and findable."
The "Safe Zone" option allows users who feel threatened to press the "blue shield button" that "takes you to Safe Zone, where you can escape and take a break."
"We want everyone in Horizon Worlds to have a positive experience with safety tools that are easy to find—and it’s never a user's fault if they don’t use all the features we offer," Meta spokesperson Kristina Milian told MIT Technology Review. "We will continue to improve our UI and to better understand how people use our tools so that users are able to report things easily and reliably. Our goal is to make Horizon Worlds safe, and we are committed to doing that work."
On December 9, Meta opened up Horizon Worlds to users aged 18 and above in North America.