This does not bode well for the metaverse, where avatars are likely to be the primary way we communicate and interact with each other. Noel Martin, a legal researcher at the University of Western Australia and co-author of an upcoming article on the Meta metaverse, has just such concerns. “If humans can customize their 3D hyper-realistic virtual human avatars, or modify, filter and manipulate their digital identities, [there is] regarding the potential impact on body dysmorphia, selfie dysmorphiaand eating disorders … producing] “Unrealistic and unattainable” beauty standardsespecially for young girls, ”she said via email.
This fear is not unfounded. Facebook has been criticized for silencing internal research indicating that Instagram has a toxic effect on the image of teenage girls… In a Wall Street Journal report, the app’s content focuses on body and lifestyle, making users more susceptible to body dysmorphia. But in the metaverse, where avatars will be the main way to present themselves in many situations, vulnerable people may feel even more pressure to change their appearance. And Martin says customizable avatars in the metaverse can also be used to “incite racial injustice and inequality.”
Meta spokeswoman Eloise Quintanilla said the company is aware of the potential problems: “We ask ourselves important questions, such as how appropriate it is to make changes to keep the avatars positive and safe.” Microsoft, who recently announced his plans for the metaverse, also studies the use of avatars, although his research focuses heavily on workplaces such as meetings.
The prospect of creating avatars for kids raises a number of legal and ethical issues. Roblox, a hugely successful gaming platform with a primary market for children, has long relied on avatars as the primary means for players to interact with each other. And last month the company announced plans to create a metaverse; CEO and Founder David Basuki announced that Roblox’s metaverse will be a place “where you have to be who you want to be.” Roblox avatars have been playful so far, but Baszucki said the company is developing fully customizable: “Any body, any face, any hair, any clothing, any movement, any face tracking – all together … We have a hunch that if we’ll do it right, we’ll see an explosion of creativity not only among our creators, but also among our users. “
Ultimately, avatars represent how we want to be seen. However, there is no plan for what could happen if and when things inevitably go wrong. Technology has to tread a fine line while remaining realistic enough to match people’s identities without endangering the mental health of the people behind the avatars. As Park says, “We can’t stop … the metaverse. So we have to prepare wisely. ” If the Facebook newspapers say anything, it is that social media companies are well aware of the health impact of their technology, but governments and social safety nets are lagging behind in protecting the most vulnerable.
Crane understands the risks of more realistic avatars for those who may have body dysmorphia, but he says the ability to see oneself in a virtual world would be indescribable. “For me, the joy of presenting myself accurately will mean that I am not the only person who believes that my existence is justified,” he says. “This means that the development team also sees the potential of my existence, how I look like a man.”