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As the adoption of the metaverse approaches, one factor that seems like an inevitability is toxic behavior. Such behavior is unfortunately prolific in online communities now. The behaviors will likely carry forward to the metaverse, if not always in the same way. Several experts on online safety spoke about the topic at GamesBeat and Facebook Gaming’s Into the Metaverse 2 event.

The panel consisted of Tiffany Xingyu Wang, chief strategy and marketing officer of Spectrum Labs; Laura Higgins, director of community safety and civility at Roblox; and Rachel Franklin SVP of Positive Play at Electronic Arts. They covered what toxicity in the metaverse will look like, and how companies might prevent it.

Wang said that the behavior in the metaverse could potentially be worse in the metaverse: “I think the attributes that draw people to the metaverse present as much potential as dangers. We talk about immersiveness, which would amplify the impact of toxicity. We talk about persistence, which would drive the velocity or the lead time to toxicity. We talk about the realization of fantasized selves, which would increase the exposure of potential disruptive behaviors.”

Safety for everyone, across the metaverse

One factor, all the panelists concurred, was that metaverse experiences must be built with safety and positivity in mind. Higgins said, “It’s really hard to retrofit safety once things are already out in the open. It’s much better to build with those things in place right from the beginning. People need to now thing differently if they’re building experiences for the metaverse.”

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Franklin concurred, and said that the tools to protect oneself in the metaverse will be especially important. “Not every environment is going to be the same. We don’t want everything to be G-rated… How can we build in ways for people who are actually in that application or game to be able to uphold what that community is about?”

One of the problems the panelists identified is that the same tools will not necessarily apply across the whole metaverse. Higgins pointed out that education will be key. “There’s a real opportunity for teaching, and for people to understand…. In the same way that we have to self-regulate in the real world — walk into a room and people can see the way that you’re acting, the way you respond to people having communication, body language, those things. They’re actually going to become much more real within the metaverse. I think that, hopefully, will hold some people to account. But they need to be taught that these things are going to actually apply now, which they haven’t really had to think about before.”

Franklin concurred, and added that education and clear communication can go a long way towards keeping metaverse and metaverse-adjacent spaces non-toxic: “Sometimes just telling people what the rules or guidelines are, we see a drastic change in behavior. People generally don’t want to be horrible to each other.”

Wang added, “I think what is very encouraging is, as we move into this new iteration of the web, we stand a chance to get it right…. Safety was kind of an afterthought in Web2. When we move into the metaverse and the new infrastructure and experience, this conversation will be very timely.”

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