The World Economic Forum is warning that the free selection by users of avatars in the metaverse can fuel stereotypes and is something that needs to be regulated.
The international lobbying organization laid out its plan for addressing issues like “cultural appropriation, identity tourism or digital blackface in the metaverse” in a new report titled “Social Implications of the Metaverse”.
“While a diverse range of customization options enables a larger number of people to display their most authentic selves in virtual or augmented realities, metaverse builders and participants should be sensitive to the potential impacts of users freely using avatars of a different race or culture to their own,” the report notes.
To prevent and respond to users representing themselves differently in the metaverse, the WEF report calls for “moderation policies” to be put in place along with “education and awareness to address avatar misuse.”
The WEF runs an initiative it calls the Global Coalition for Digital Safety, which asserts to “tackle harmful content online and will serve to exchange best practices for new online safety regulation take coordinated action to reduce the risk of online harms, and drive forward collaboration on programs to enhance digital media literacy.”
The metaverse is a series of online virtual worlds that can be explored digitally through the use of virtual or augmented reality. “One way to think about the metaverse is as a collection of immersive video game-like experiences that resembles real-world experiences in which everyone can participate,” a tech developer told CBC.
Users in the metaverse are represented through avatars, which serve as an online representation of the individual. This avatar can then be used throughout the various experiences available in different virtual worlds and games.
Despite the backlash received by Meta CEO Mark Zuckerberg, who was ridiculed for the cartoonish design of his avatar, the WEF report points to a case study of an app called Idoru, which aims for realistic representations in its avatars.
“These insights should help decision-makers think about technology development from a holistic lens and incentivize outcomes for a thriving and healthy society,” the authors of the report say. Accenture, a partner in the project, predicts the metaverse could reach $1 trillion over the next three years.