In a world where virtual reality is becoming more and more prominent, Meta‘s plan to introduce its own metaverse has faced pushback from two Democratic senators who are demanding that Mark Zuckerberg spare teens from the experience. The Senators argue that Meta has failed (wrote in a tweet) to protect young users before, and they fear that opening up Horizon Worlds to users aged 13-17 could expose them to bullying, harassment, and sexual content.
But Meta insists that safeguards will be in place to protect young users. The Quest VR platform has always been designed for people ages 13+, so it makes sense that Meta would plan to introduce experiences for that audience in Horizon Worlds, as per The Wall Street Journal. The company says it wants to ensure that it can provide teens with a great experience in Horizon Worlds with age-appropriate tools and protections in place.
Despite Meta’s reassurances, Senators Markey and Blumenthal remain skeptical. They point to Meta’s consistent failures to protect young users, including evidence that Instagram can have a negative effect on teenage girls’ mental health, and reports that Meta has failed to stop ads for tobacco, alcohol and eating disorder content from targeting teens.
The senators argue that any strategy to invite young users into a digital space rife with potential harms should not be driven by the goal to maximize profit. They imply that Zuckerberg is desperate to salvage Meta’s struggling metaverse by resorting to focusing on teens.
It remains to be seen whether Meta will heed the senators’ call to halt the launch of Horizon Worlds for teens. But as virtual reality becomes more prevalent, the issue of protecting young users will undoubtedly become increasingly important. In the end, it will be up to companies like Meta to ensure that their virtual worlds are safe and age-appropriate for all users.