Facebook’s parent company Meta is receiving backlash from more than 70 online children’s safety groups and experts who are calling on CEO Mark Zuckerberg to cancel plans to allow minors into his fledgling “Horizon Worlds” metaverse. The group argues that minors are already being exposed to online abuse, harassment, and offensive content on the platform. A report compiled last month by the Center for Countering Digital Hate found that underage users are already active on the free, online game, and they are “routinely exposed to harassment and abuse — including sexually explicit insults and racist, misogynistic, and homophobic harassment — and other offensive content.” The group’s report said researchers identified at least 19 instances of abusive content aimed at minors in their 100 visits to “Horizon Worlds,” which currently enacts an 18-and-up age limit.
According to an internal memo reported by the Wall Street Journal in February, executives at Facebook’s parent company were now planning to open “Horizon Worlds” to users aged 13 to 17. However, experts say that Zuckerberg should cancel plans to let minors enter his fledgling “Horizon Worlds” metaverse because it could put them at risk of online abuse. The open letter signed by the group of more than 70 online children’s safety groups and experts says, “what may be good for your bottom line may be incredibly harmful to young people.”
Facebook, Meta, TikTok, and other platforms have been criticized by lawmakers for failing to put adequate safeguards in place to shield children from harmful content and online abuse. Meta is reportedly taking steps to safeguard underage users from harmful content within the metaverse. Before making Horizon Worlds available to teens, the company will have additional protections and tools in place to help provide age-appropriate experiences for them. Quest headsets are for people 13+ and the company encourages parents and caretakers to use their parental supervision tools, including managing access to apps, to help ensure safe experiences.
Meta’s metaverse technology is drawing criticism and raising concerns about online safety. While the company is taking steps to safeguard underage users, experts argue that Zuckerberg should cancel plans to let minors enter his fledgling “Horizon Worlds” metaverse because it could put them at risk of online abuse. The group of more than 70 online children’s safety groups and experts is calling for more peer-reviewed research on the potential risks of the metaverse to be certain that children and teens would be safe.