Oculus Is Trying To Get Ahead of Harassment In Virtual Reality
Facebook wants one billion people to experience virtual reality-about one-seventh of the entire human population. That's an audacious goal even without a timeframe, which Mark Zuckerberg did not provide. But to lure that many people into the void, users don't just need their minds blown. They also need to feel safe.
"Let's be honest, being in VR with other people, especially strangers, can be intimidating," Womack said on stage on Wednesday. "For communities to thrive, people need to feel safe-and it costs developers a lot of money and time and effort to build and maintain safe places. We care deeply about protecting the future of social VR. So we want to help. We decided to build an API that does a lot of that for you. Early next year, you'll be able to get platform-level safety tools, like blocking and reporting, for free. It's like, built-in best practices that carry app-to-app."
Oculus is clearly trying to get ahead of harassment in
Before addressing safety, Womack also announced Oculus' plans to expand its avatar customization tools to better represent a diverse range of users. These redesigned avatars, which will be available early next year, let users customize their avatars' skin and hair, among other features. And later on next year, avatars will feature more responsive mouth and eye movements. But this customization and expressiveness may also make users-specifically women and people of color , and other groups that are disproportionately attacked online- more vulnerable to harassment. Of course, you can always customize an avatar so it's less likely to be targeted (a white dude), but you shouldn't have to.
As it stands, two-dimensional social networking is failing pretty miserably at handling harassment. It remains to be seen whether Oculus' Safety API has the necessary tools for developers to protect all of their users. If Facebook and other major social media platforms can't get a grip on harassment in lowly 2D, why should we believe they are prepared to handle a billion users in VR?