Hate in Social Virtual Reality

Hate in Social Virtual Reality, a white paper prepared in collaboration with the Anti-Defamation League’s Center for Technology and Society, was released in July 2018.

Social VR is an emerging application of virtual reality technology that brings human users together in virtual spaces with other human users for the primary purpose of engaging in social interaction. Users interact in virtual spaces using “avatars”, or forms (often, but not necessarily, human-like forms) that users can control to move around in space and interact with environments and other users. While virtual worlds are by no means new, the unique affordances of virtual reality (VR) create a feeling of “really being there” for many users. This sense of reality can make interactions more impactful — in both positive and negative ways.

As in the early days of social media platforms, there is enthusiasm around the idea that Social VR will foster cross-cultural understanding and motivate positive social change. However, there is research and real-world examples of hate, bias, and harassment in Social VR. This report identifies key examples of hate reported in Social VR to date and points out opportunities and cautionary tales for the Social VR industry. This forward-looking analysis is contextualized in prior findings about bias and harassment in video games and online social networking platforms.

Even though the Social VR industry is new, high-profile incidents of bias, hate, and harassment have already been reported. But because the industry is new, there is also a prime opportunity to design platforms and tools that will reduce and prevent harassment in the future. This report lays the groundwork for future analysis of tools and strategies to address hate in Social VR.