Advocacy organizations and safety groups have urged Mark Zuckerberg’s social media giant Meta to halt plans to allow minors into the metaverse.
Online safety groups and experts sent a letter to the Meta CEO on April 14, calling out the firm to scrap its plans to invite teenagers and young adults to join its metaverse app, Horizon Worlds. The letter was signed by major safety groups, including Airplay, the Center for Countering Digital Hate, Common Sense Media and others, according to a report by Bloomberg.
The activists argued that Meta must first assess the potential risks of allowing youth in the metaverse, as minors will likely face harassment and privacy violations on its virtual reality app.
“Meta must wait for more peer-reviewed research on the potential risks of the metaverse to be certain that children and teens would be safe,” the advocates wrote in the letter.
The statement referred to a March report from the Center for Countering Digital Hate that found users under 18 have already been facing harassment from adults on the app. The study specifically witnessed 19 episodes of abuse directed at minors by adults, including sexual harassment, during 100 visits to the most popular worlds within Horizon Universe.
The safety experts argued that Meta should create a new path with its metaverse project to protect the youth, stating:
“Should Meta throw open the doors of these worlds to minors rather than pause to protect them, you would, yet again, demonstrate your company to be untrustworthy when it comes to safeguarding young people’s best interests.”
As previously reported, Meta started planning to open Horizon Worlds to users aged 13 to 17 in February. The company opened Horizon Worlds to users from 18 in 2021 but has struggled to keep users returning to the platform.
According to Bloomberg, Meta currently doesn’t intend to abandon its plans for miners in the metaverse but is preparing to adopt some extra measures to protect such users from any metaverse-related violations, Meta’s Joe Osborne said.
“Before we make Horizon Worlds available to teens, we will have additional protections and tools in place to help provide age-appropriate experiences for them,” Osborne noted, adding:
“Quest headsets are for people 13+ and we encourage parents and caretakers to use our parental supervision tools, including managing access to apps, to help ensure safe experiences.”
The latest initiative to protect minors in virtual reality is not the first callout on Meta to reconsider its plans on allowing youth into the metaverse. Previously, Senators Ed Markey and Richard Blumental demanded Meta to scrap plans to expand access to the app for teens aged 13 to 17 in a joint letter issued in early March.