This study includes examples of harassment that may be upsetting to some readers.
Horizon Worlds is a virtual social space by Meta (formerly Facebook). It is thought to be an early example of concepts the Metaverse is aiming to achieve with further development. While it is only available in Canada and the US, it will become available for UK consumers once beta testing has been completed.
In Horizon Worlds, players can create an avatar, talk to friends, play games, collaborate with others, and build their own worlds, mini-games, and activities. Users can access Horizon Worlds through a Meta Quest headset (a requirement to play). They can also access live events through Horizon Venues, a connected VR app. Most of this technology is a work in progress, but platforms like this are a great example of the new type of online socialising the Metaverse is aiming to achieve.
However, just because this technology is ‘new’ does not mean we should assume it is ‘safe’. Research by the Centre for Countering Hate in December 2021 showed that users were exposed to inappropriate content on Horizon Worlds including bullying, sexual harassment, and abuse – some of which involved minors. One researcher reported that her avatar on Horizon Worlds was “virtually raped” by three to four male avatars who surrounded her while verbally and sexually harassing her. After multiple reports, Meta introduced a Personal Boundary feature that is on by default for all players. There are also blocking and reporting features, as well as a ‘Safety Zone’ feature that can help a player immediately exit an uncomfortable situation.
Horizon Worlds is 18+, but there have been multiple reports of children and young people accessing it through their parent or carer’s account.