Metaverset is the next meeting place for body dysmorphy online

It does not bode well for the metaverse, where avatars are likely to be the primary way we communicate and interact with each other. Noelle Martin, a legal researcher at the University of Western Australia and co-author of an upcoming paper on Meta’s metavers, raises just such concerns. “If people are able to customize their 3D hyperrealistic virtual human avatars or change, filter and manipulate their digital identities, [there is] a worrying potential for affecting body dysmorphy, selfie dysmorphy and eating disorders… produces]’unrealistic and unattainable’ beauty standards, especially for young girls, ”she said via email.

That fear is not unfounded. Facebook has been criticized for dampening internal research indicating that Instagram has a toxic effect on the body image of teenage girls. A report in the Wall Street Journal showed that the app’s content focuses on body and lifestyle leaving users more susceptible to body dysmorphy. But in the meta-verse, where avatars will be the main way to present themselves in many situations, vulnerable people could feel even more pressured to customize their appearance. And Martin says that adaptable avatars in the metaverse can also be used to “inflame racial injustices and inequalities.”

Meta spokeswoman Eloise Quintanilla said the company is aware of potential issues: “We ask ourselves important questions, such as how much change makes sense to ensure avatars are a positive and safe experience.” Microsoft, which recently announced its own metaverse plans, has also studied avatar usage, though its research has been strongly focused on workplaces like meetings.

The prospect of metaverse avatars for children raises a whole other set of legal and ethical questions. Roblox, the wildly successful gaming platform whose primary market is children, has long used avatars as the primary means by which players interact with each other. And the company announced its own plans for a metaverse last month; CEO and founder David Baszucki stated that Roblox’s metaverse would be a place “where you have to be who you want to be.” So far, Roblox avatars have been playful, but Baszucki said the company is looking for completely customizable: “Any body, any face, any hair, any clothing, any movement, any face tracking, all … We have a feeling that if if we do this right, we will see an explosion of creativity, not only among our creators, but also our users. “

Ultimately, avatars represent how we want to be seen. Yet there is no plan for what can happen if and when things inevitably go wrong. Technology must go a fine line and remain realistic enough to be true to people’s identities without threatening the mental health of the people behind the avatars. As Park says: “We will not be able to stop the meta-verse. So we should wisely prepare. “If the Facebook newspapers show anything, it is that social media companies are well aware of the health effects of their technology, but governments and social safety nets are lagging behind in protecting the most vulnerable.

Crane understands the risk of more realistic avatars for those who might have body dysmorphy, but he says the power of being able to see himself in the virtual world would be indescribable. “For me, the joy of seeing myself represented accurately would mean that I am not the only person who believes my existence is valid,” he says. “It means a team of developers also sees the potential in me existing as I look as a man.”

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