One of the least surprising issues plaguing Mark Zuckerberg’s company this week involves the “personal” space of “people” on Horizon Worlds, the virtual-reality platform Facebook users can download to host all the boring business meetings they could have hosted in real life but with a VR headset and clunky cartoon avatar instead. Owing to the problem of obnoxious users groping their fellow metaverse denizens, Meta has implemented a “personal boundary” to stop sexual harassment in the simulacrum.
The company stated on Friday that the barrier will “default make it feel like there is an almost 4-foot distance between your avatar and others” and that there “is no haptic feedback” to the mechanism: “You won’t feel it.” They say that they hope this rule will help usher in some “behavioral norms,” such as not sexually harassing strangers. “Sexual harassment is no joke on the regular internet, but being in VR adds another layer that makes the event more intense,” one beta-tester wrote on Facebook of her experience last month. “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.”
Facebook saw this coming, to an extent, instituting “hand harassment” measures from the outset, in which “an avatar’s hands would disappear if they encroached upon someone’s personal space.” But considering the rampant nature of sexual harassment online, perhaps they should have foreseen how bad the problem would be. Considering that the founder’s first venture was a hot-or-not website for college students, perhaps it’s not surprising that they didn’t.