The metaverse is the next place for body dysmorphia online
That’s not good for the metaverse, where avatars are likely to be the primary way to communicate and communicate with each other. Noelle Martin, a legal researcher at the University of Western Australia and co -author of a future paper on the Meta metaverse, raises such concerns. “If people can customize their 3D hyperrealistic virtual human avatar, or modify, filter, and manipulate their digital identities, [there is] a about the potential to affect dysmorphia in the body, selfie dysmorphia, and foodborne illness… production] ‘unrealistic and unattainable’ standards of beauty, especially young women, ”she said via email.
That fear is not baseless. Facebook has been criticized for silencing internal research that shows that Instagram has a toxic effect on body image for teenage girls. A Wall Street Journal report found that focusing within the app on body and lifestyle makes users more vulnerable to body dysmorphia. But in the metaverse, where avatars are the primary way of presenting themselves in many situations, vulnerable people may feel more pressure to adjust their appearance. And Martin says customized metaverse avatars can be used to “burn racial injustices and inequities” as well.
Meta spokesperson Eloise Quintanilla said the company is aware of potential problems: “We ask ourselves important questions like how many changes are necessary to ensure avatars are a a positive and safe experience. ” Microsoft, which recently announced its own metaverse plans, is also studying the use of avatars, even though its research has focused heavily on workplace settings such as meetings.
The future of metaverse avatars for children raises another set of legal and ethical questions. Roblox, the extremely successful gaming platform whose primary market is children, has long used avatars as the primary way in which players interact with each other. And the company announced its own plans for a metaverse last month; CEO and founder David Baszucki declared that Roblox’s metaverse will be a place “where you need who you want.” So far, Roblox’s avatars have been a game, but Baszucki said the company continues to be completely customized: “Any body, any face, any hair, any dress, any movement, any tracking on the face of it, everyone comes together … if we do it right, we will see an explosion of creativity, not only in our creators but also in our users. ”
Finally, avatars represent what we want to see. Yet there is no plan for what will happen if and when things inevitably go wrong. Technology needs to walk a good line, remain realistic enough to be true to the identities of the people without threatening the mental health of the people behind the avatars. As Park puts it: “We can’t stop the… metaverse. So we have to prepare wisely. ” If Facebook’s papers show anything, it’s that social media companies are well aware of the health effects of their technology, but governments and social safety nets are behind in protecting most vulnerable.
Crane understands the dangers of more realistic avatars for those with physical dysmorphia, but he says the power of seeing oneself in the virtual world is indescribable. “For me, the joy of seeing myself properly represented means that I’m not the only person who believes my existence is valid,” he said. “It means that a group of developers have also seen the potential in me to exist, as I look, as a person.”