- Two US senators have urged Mark Zuckerberg to halt plans to release Facebook’s Horizon Worlds metaverse app to teenagers.
- The senators cited Meta’s record of flawed social media platforms for children that have failed to protect them from inappropriate content.
- The metaverse exposes teenagers to potential threats such as a collection of personal data, physiological damage, exposure to abusive behavior, and sexual content.
US senators have written to the CEO of Facebook’s parent company, Meta Platforms, to cease plans to release its Horizon Worlds metaverse app to teenagers. The senators cited the flaws in social media platforms for children that have failed to protect them from inappropriate content. Horizon is a metaverse application that gives users access to virtual worlds and avatars. Launched last December, the platform aims to attract 500,000 monthly active users in the first half of 2023. As of January, Horizon had just over 200,000 monthly active users aged 18 and above.
The senators believe such a decision comes with the risks of exposing teenagers to inappropriate content, and they have now asked Zuckerberg to halt such plans immediately. In this editorial piece, we discuss the potential dangers of the metaverse for young minds and compare it to the dangers they now face with current social media apps like Facebook, TikTok, Instagram, and more.
Meta Asked to Stop Horizon Plans for Teenagers
Horizon is a metaverse application that gives users access to virtual worlds and avatars. Launched last December, the platform aims to attract 500,000 monthly active users in the first half of 2023. As of January, Horizon had just over 200,000 monthly active users aged 18 and above. Meta decided in February to open Horizon to teenagers aged 13 to 17 later this month. But senators Markey and Blumenthal believe such a decision comes with the risks of exposing teenagers to inappropriate content, and they have now asked Zuckerberg to halt such plans immediately.
Teenagers to Face Potential Threats in the Metaverse
To substantiate their claims, the senators cited a record of Meta’s inability to protect their young-aged target audience from inappropriate content. A flaw in Messenger Kids – the Messenger version for children aged 6 to 12 – enabled its users to bypass restrictions and chat with strangers. Meta also failed to prevent tobacco, alcohol, and eating disorder ads from reaching teenagers. Furthermore, the senators mentioned a 2021 report that found its Instagram service toxic for teen girls. They noted that Meta’s record of failure has caused the platform to lose parents, pediatricians, and policymakers. Moreover, teenagers face the risks of collection of face and eye movement data, physiological damage such as nausea and eyestrain, exposure to abusive behavior, and sexual content on the metaverse.
Dangers of the Metaverse
In the metaverse, social media platforms will track much more than what they do now, including where users go, what they do, who they’re with, where they look, and how long their gaze lingers. This level of surveillance transfers to the Metaverse, making users prey victim to surveillance advertising. The biggest danger of the Metaverse is the prospect that large corporations will be able to use it to manipulate users’ experiences on behalf of the highest bidder, persuading them in ways that will make social media seem quaint.
Social Media Vs The Metaverse
While the dangers of the metaverse are a cause for concern, it’s important to note that social media apps like Facebook, TikTok, and Instagram have also been criticized for their impact on young minds. In fact, the senators who wrote to Mark Zuckerberg cited a 2021 report that found Instagram to be toxic for teen girls. The report indicated that the app contributes to anxiety, depression, poor body image, and self-esteem issues among young girls.
Other social media apps have also been criticized for their impact on mental health and well-being. TikTok has been linked to cyberbullying and the spread of harmful content, while Facebook has been accused of spreading fake news and divisive content. In addition, social media apps track user behavior and collect personal data, which can be used to target users with ads and manipulate their behavior.
The metaverse presents similar risks, but on a much larger scale. The virtual world will allow corporations to collect even more personal data and track user behavior in ways that are currently not possible. This data can then be used to target users with highly personalized ads and content, which could have a significant impact on their behavior and decision-making.
Furthermore, the immersive nature of the metaverse means that users may become more susceptible to the content they encounter. Unlike social media apps, which are typically used in short bursts throughout the day, users in the metaverse may spend hours or even days at a time in the virtual world. This prolonged exposure to immersive content could have a significant impact on their mental health and well-being.
Protecting Young Minds in the Metaverse
Given the potential dangers of the metaverse, it’s important for parents and educators to take steps to protect young minds from harm. Here are a few tips to consider:
Educate Teens on Digital Literacy: Parents and educators should educate teens on the dangers of the metaverse and other digital platforms. Teens should be taught how to recognize and avoid harmful content, as well as how to protect their personal data and privacy online.
Monitor Online Activity: Parents should monitor their teens’ online activity and limit their access to the metaverse and other digital platforms. They should also set rules around screen time and ensure that their teens are not spending too much time online.
Encourage Offline Activities: Encourage teens to participate in offline activities that promote physical activity and socialization. This can help to reduce their reliance on digital platforms and promote overall well-being.
Advocate for Regulation: Parents and educators can advocate for regulations that protect young minds from harmful content and manipulation in the metaverse. This can include regulations around data privacy, content moderation, and advertising.
Stay Informed: Finally, parents and educators should stay informed about the latest developments in the metaverse and other digital platforms. This can help them to anticipate potential risks and take steps to protect young minds from harm.
Exciting but be careful
The metaverse is an exciting new frontier in the world of technology, but it’s important to consider the potential dangers it poses for young minds. As with any new technology, it’s important for parents and educators to take steps to protect teens from harmful content and manipulation. By educating teens on digital literacy, monitoring their online activity, and advocating for regulation, we can ensure that the metaverse is a safe and enriching space for young minds to explore.
It’s important for parents and guardians to have open and honest conversations with teenagers about the potential risks and to establish clear boundaries and rules for their online activities. Additionally, it’s crucial for platforms and game developers to take responsibility for creating safe and secure virtual environments for their users. This includes implementing measures to prevent inappropriate content and behavior, providing reporting tools for users to report any concerns, and enforcing strict consequences for violators of community guidelines.
Finally, it’s important for educators and mental health professionals to stay informed about the evolving landscape of virtual worlds and to offer support and guidance to young people who may be struggling with the social and emotional challenges of navigating these digital spaces.
In summary, while the metaverse presents exciting opportunities for socialization, learning, and entertainment, it’s important for all stakeholders – parents, guardians, educators, game developers, and mental health professionals – to work together to ensure that young people are able to enjoy these virtual worlds safely and responsibly.