- NSPCC warns that some applications in the metaverse are “dangerous by design”.
- Many children in the metaverse are exposed to inappropriate behavior, actions, and objects, often by adults.
- Inside the metaverse, there is little to no moderation of violent and inappropriate acts.
The National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children, also known as NSPCC, warns that some applications in the metaverse are “dangerous by design” and that improvements in online safety are a matter of urgency.
BBC researcher Jess Sherwood discovers the reality for many children in the metaverse as they are exposed to inappropriate behavior, actions, and objects, often by adults. Posing as a 13 year old, she witnessed grooming, sexual material, racist insults and evenr rape threats in the world of virtual reality. She saw rooms where avatars were simulating sexual acts, and was shown other sexual materials while being aproached by adult men.
The world of metaverse can be accessed with a Meta Quest headset, which immerses the player with a 360° view of the virtual reality. The app, called the VRChat, consists of different rooms where users can interact with 3-D avatars. Although some rooms are innocent, such as a McDonald’s restaurant, there are also some that are dangerous, such as pole-dancing and strip clubs. The app requires a Facebook account, which is often not verified and does not check identities of the player.
Inside the app, there is little to no moderation. Catherine Allen of Limina Immersive describes the incident of meeting a 7-year old girl in the metaverse when a group of men surrounded them and joked about raping them. Ms. Allen had to step between them to protect the child as there was no other way to control the situation.
Despite the guidelines imposed by Meta, there is no effective way to hold the violator accountable. In a study conducted in December last year, the Center for Countering Digital Hate found a hundred potential violations of Meta’s policies in the span of 11 hours and 30 minutes. As anonymity continues to be prioritized over accountability, it can impact the lives of not only children, but all of society.
Kiwi Farms: Far right extremist website blocked over harassment
Kiwi Farms, an internet forum that facilitates online discussion and harassment particularly of neurodiverse and trans personalities, came under scrutiny for doxing people.
Earlier this month Kiwi Farms, an internet forum that facilitates online discussion and harassment particularly of neurodiverse and trans personalities, came under scrutiny for doxing people. Notably it targeted a trans Twitch streamer, Clara Sorrenti who as a result had to flee the country. At first, the content delivery network Cloudflare, refused to stop providing its services. However, after a while, on 3rd September Cloudflare stopped protecting the website.
Sorrenti was just one of the victims of this far-right website that caused at least three suicides. Kiwi Farms was launched in 2009 as CWCki dedicated to referencing the online presence of Christine Weston Chandler aka Chris Chan aka Sonichu. It officially changed its name in 2015 and soon gained a lot of popularity. The format of the website is simple – identify a victim, label them a “lolcow” – an online slang term for someone who can be exploited and made fun out of – and then stalk them to the point of harassment.
Some recent victims of the trolling website:
The far-right Georgia Republican Marjorie Taylor Greene became a target of this website when she became a victim of a swatting incident. In this, a fake call was made to the authorities to bring them to her house in August of this year.
A caller connected to Kiwi Farms called police officers and told them that a man was shot five times in a bathtub at the address of Greene. According to the police report, the police later received a computer-generated call that stated she was targeted because of her stance on “transgender youth’s rights.”
In response, Greene stated: “There should be no business or any kind of service where you can target your enemy. That’s absolutely absurd.”
In late August, there was a bomb threat at the Boston Children’s Hospital after which they had to contact the authorities. The threat was anonymous but luckily no bomb was found. The hospital was attacked for providing gender-affirming hysterectomies to children. The bomb threat resulted after a week-long cyber-attack on the hospital as one statement read:
“(the hospital) has been the target of a large volume of hostile internet activity, phone calls, and harassing emails including threats of violence toward our clinicians and staff. We are deeply concerned by these attacks on our clinicians and staff fueled by misinformation and a lack of understanding and respect for our transgender community.”
Children’s National Hospital in Washington DC was also subjected to similar harassment for the same reasons. As a result, the hospital had to release a statement.
The Trevor Project’s Hotline is meant to help LGBTQ+ kids who are battling suicidal thoughts. The users of Kiwi Farms tried to clog up the hotline with fake calls in late August so that the real kids could not access it. They failed to succeed but the Kiwi Farms website was filled with users proud of what they had done.
The most recent victim was Clare Sorrenti who opened the door to a barrel of a gun pointing at her face on September 5th. The police were called to her house by Kiwi Farm users in a swatting incident after months-long harassment.
She was accused of sending violent emails to local politicians which led to her being arrested temporarily. As a result, she and her fiancé moved to a local hotel only to be doxed again after the users found the hotel by a picture that she posted of her cat sitting on the bed.
Realizing the severity of the situation, she moved to Northern Island to evade the stalking and harassment. However, the users again found her in no time and hacked her family members’ mobile phones. This stalking was made worse because she fought back instead of backing down and crowdfunded around $100,000 to “seek justice and make sure something like this doesn’t happen to anyone else.”
She also created a trending Twitter hashtag “#DropKiwiFarms” which was joined by her fans as well as the Anti-Defamation League.
Interference of Cloudflare
Cloudflare is a company that provides security by warding off DDoS attacks and keeping hackers at bay. The company has been under scrutiny for protecting Kiwi Farms but this is not the only controversial website they provided security to. The company also protected the Daily Stormer and 8chan, both websites that were closed down.
Without Cloudflare, the website could be attacked by hackers and shut down before it leads to a bigger incident. The company refused to stop providing services to this controversial website by stating:
“Just as the telephone company doesn’t terminate your line if you say awful, racist, bigoted things, we have concluded in consultation with politicians, policymakers, and experts that turning off security services because we think what you publish is despicable is the wrong policy.”
A while later, on September 4th, the company did decide to terminate its services to Kiwi Farms for “unprecedented emergency and immediate threat to human life”.
However, similar sites that are dedicated to doxing people still exist such as The Lolcow.farm imageboard which has been around since at least 2014, and the Pretty Ugly Little Liar forum which started in 2015 and still exists.
Google Fires Blake Lemoine for Making Public Claims Regarding AI Technology ￼
- Recently, Google fired Blake Lemoine, a software engineer for Google, who claimed that Lamda had a sentient mind.
- Google along with many AI experts denied his claims and public speeches, stating that he violated employment and security policies.
- Blake started making headlines about how Lamda, one of Google’s chat boxes, began displaying human-like awareness through holding conversations on subjective matters
- Many AI engineers made these public claims before Mr. Lemoine, proposing their theory that AI technology is becoming more sentient.
SumOfUs’s Researcher’s Avatar Sexually Assaulted in Horizon World’s Game
- In Meta’s virtual reality platform, Horizon Worlds, the avatar of a 21-year old SumOfUs researcher was sexually assaulted.
- Meta confirms that it has set up safety tools in Horizon Worlds in order to prevent negative experiences, especially since there were earlier reports of virtual assaults and inappropriate behavior in February.
- One of the safeguards introduced was Personal Boundary, which prevents any avatars from coming within a set distance of 4 feet of each other in order to respect the avatar’s personal space. The company also offers other ways in order to block and report users as well.
- Nevertheless, SumOfUS reported that the researcher was “encouraged” to disable the Personal Boundary feature, and was approached by 2 male avatars in a room, one of whom was observing and the other got fairly close to her. She also witnessed lewd comments, homophobic slurs, and virtual gun violence.
- SumOfUs has filed a resolution with some of the shareholders, requesting a risk assessment of the human rights impacts in the metaverse. A shareholder meeting is set to be held on Wednesday.
- SumOfUs’s campaigns director Vicky Wyatt stated, “Let’s not repeat and replicate [real-world issues] in the metaverse. We need a better plan here on how to mitigate online harms in the metaverse”.
Digital Authoritarianism – A Growing Challenge to The World Press Freedom
Press and electronic media have been an active source of propagation of the discourse be it political, social, or religious. They make it easier for a piece of information to reach the common masses and thus it is crucial for the governments to control them to keep insuring the creation of “us” and “them” division in the society. But this control has become a challenge for a free and independent press. Digital authoritarianism, cyber surveillance, and monitoring of political and social activities of people through media have made it difficult for the people of the present age and time to have freely expressed their opinion and easier for the governments to control the information.
While China has been controlling the influx of information and the regulation of ideologies in the country through a great fire, Other countries are joining in too with their measure to increase cyber-surveillance. Internet shutdowns are one of the tools for asserting digital authoritarianism and according to a survey conducted by a non-profit digital rights organization Access now, the year 2021 experienced 182 events of Internet shutdowns around the world.
The shutdowns measures were taken to contribute to the growing political tensions in the respective regions for example, during the coup in Maynmar, and to influence the geopolitical situation in Eastern Europe, specifically Russia. Similarly, while Africa experienced an epidemic of coups in the year 2021, the number of internet shutdowns reached 19.
India which claims to be the “world’s largest democracy” imposed an internet shutdown more than a hundred times in the year 2021 and more than half of them were on the already repressed people of Jammu and Kashmir.
While Russia became the only country in Europe to impose an internet shutdown in 2021, in the year 2022, the Russia and Ukraine war has forced other EU countries to ban the access to Russia Today, Sputnik other information sites regulated by Russia calling it a measure against “the war propaganda.” Similarly, since the beginning of the conflict, Russia has imposed new internet laws in the country to monitor the spread of news restricting the use of global applications like Instagram and Facebook.
The more recent rerouting of the internet traffic of occupied Ukrainian regions to be redirected through Russian cyber routes. Netblocks, an internet observatory, noted that: “Connectivity on the network has been routed via Russia’s internet instead of Ukrainian telecoms infrastructure and is hence likely now subject to Russian internet regulations, surveillance, and censorship.”
However, while countries around the world are being exposed to exerting digital dominance, and being accused to collect user data for their own benefit, it is becoming a challenge for them to create “democracy-affirming technologies” to combat the digital authoritarianism that has been challenging the world’s press freedom around the world.
Sexualized Child Images “Meet Community Guidelines” on Instagram
Instagram has come under a lot of heat, and rightly so, for not removing accounts that showed pictures of children in swimwear or partial clothing attracting loads of sexualized comments even after such accounts were reported via the in-app reporting tool.
The above-mentioned tool allows users to flag accounts that have suspicious activity which is then reviewed by the system’s automated moderation technology, which in this case ruled such concerning accounts as “acceptable” and conforming to “community guidelines” resulting in such accounts remaining live.
An independent researcher challenged this and reported one such concerning account to Instagram using the in-app reporting tool, only to be met with a response tagged with a phrase many of us a too familiar with i.e., “due to the high volume of reports” submitted it can not view the report but the “(automated) technology has found that this account probably doesn’t go against our community guidelines”. The said account, with more than 33,000 followers remained live the whole day.
All this while Instagram’s parent company, Meta, as do other social media companies claims an approach that has zero tolerance towards child exploitation – claims that remain unsubstantiated by their actions/policies.
Instagram is not alone in failing to effectively handle this issue. Twitter has many similar accounts often known as “tribute pages”. This is evident from the example of this one account which was ruled not to be breaking twitter’s rules after being reported through the in-app reporting tool despite posting pictures of a man performing sexual acts with images of a 14-year-old TikTok underage influencer. Other tweets from the same account reading “looking to trade some younger stuff” were also seemingly not concerning enough, until it was publicly called out by a campaign group ‘Collective Shout’ at which point the account was taken down.
Should such accounts suspicious of illegal activity and clearly harmful be allowed to remain live only because they do not meet a criminal threshold, yet?
Are “Zero tolerance” claims consistent with companies allowing the content that is a threat to children to remain live despite being reported, let alone proactively moderate content?
Should the social media companies be relying on automated detections for preventing the serious risk of sexualization, harassment and exploitation of our children when such technologies have been known to have failed miserably for even keeping up with simple hate speech?
Tired of Carrying a Wallet? Have Your Credit Card Microchipped Under Your Skin
Walletmor, a British-Polish startup, claims to have created the first implantable microchip that can be used at any contactless payment machine around the world. Walletmor has sold over 500 microchips that are slightly bigger than a grain of rice and weigh less than one gram. Each microchip goes for £199 and can be sewn in by professionals at any aesthetics clinic.
Walletmor claims that the microchip is entirely safe and has received regulatory approval. Once implanted, the microchip is ready to use and will not shift from its place. The microchip requires no batteries or an external power source to function. The implantable capsule is made of biocompatible material and consists of a microprocessor for storing encrypted payment data and a proximity antenna to connect to nearby payment terminals.
The founder of Walletmor, Wojciech Paprota claims that the microchips are impossible to hack stating, “our payment implant cannot be forgotten or lost. This means that, unlike a standard payment card, it cannot end up in the wrong hands. It will not fall out of our wallet, and no one will take it from there. The implant cannot be scanned, photographed or hacked.”
At the moment, the microchip connects to a mobile app called ICard, where a user can refill funds for contactless payments.
Paprota believes that credit card implants will one day be as popular as regular payment cards and that Walletmor’s long-term goal is to provide more functionalities to their chip such as identification and key card access capabilities.
But before microchip implants can be widely accepted, Paprota and other emerging microchip-based companies must first assure citizens of their safety. Though implanted microchips are convenient for day-to-day tasks, many fear that as technology continues to advance, a person’s data and specific location can potentially be hacked causing safety concerns.
Nada Kakabadse, a Professor of Ethics at Reading University questioned the ethics behind getting microchips implanted. Kakabadse stated, “there is a dark side to the technology that has a potential for abuse…to those with no love of individual freedom, it opens up seductive new vistas for control, manipulation and oppression.. And who owns the data? Who has access to the data? And, is it ethical to chip people like we do pets?”
So the question arises, how much are we willing to risk for the sake of convenience?
Born and raised in the Bay Area, California, Faiza is a mother of two with a degree in Psychology and Paralegal Studies. She is passionate about lending her voice to those who are disadvantaged.
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