Facebook VR engineer Jim Purbrick hosted this recent conversation on making virtual reality social spaces safer for everyone, especially women and minorities who tend to be targeted for harassment most. Jim (he of the epic beard) is working on Facebook's avatars and VR rooms, and as I've mentioned before, much of his wisdom comes from being an engineer during Second Life's early growth phase. Joined by developers of new VR platforms Bigscreen and Altspace VR, who share their own experiences dealing with griefers and trolls, it's striking how we keep repeating a three decade-plus history of virtual world harassment. For Jim's part, there's still a lot that Second Life can teach developers of new VR-based social worlds:
"You need to consider how everything can be used to harass people (from grey goo to orbiters -- SL scripting automated a lot of harassment)," he tells me. "Just providing the functionality isn't enough: the machinery to lock down the land used for the Anshe Chung interview existed, but it wasn't easy enough to use when the flying penises arrived." (Yes, flying penii -- see NSFW video below.)
"You need to build tools that are like fire extinguishers: you should be able to ignore them for years, but still work out how to use them quickly when the fire breaks out," he adds. "Also as I mentioned in the video private spaces for learning are important: having to learn in public can be embarrassing even if no harm is intended."
Maybe this generation will finally learn from previous one, but I'm not holding my breath. Top comments to this YouTube video are typical for (male) VR enthusiasts:
"Utterly pathetic. It's depressing there's people so emotionally fragile, they need people to babysit them in a video game. Get a life you stunted babies... Fuck that, I want VR to be dangerous... Cuckulus Rift."
And so on. Which brings us to the flying penii:
Maybe funny in a juvenile way (if you're not the target of the griefing or you're not a woman) but this incident deeply damaged the Second Life brand with all the major companies interested in investing in it further. Unless systems are put in place to prevent them happening at all, similar incidents will likely contribute to a backlash against VR's new social platforms.
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