The scene is violent. It happens at the end of December in Horizon Worlds, a test version of the metaverse created by the Meta group (ex-Facebook). A British tester says that just a minute after being activated, her avatar was attacked by four other avatars who tried to touch her, insulted her and asked her to masturbate. First she tried to escape and ended up pulling the plug. She called what she experienced “rape”.
It is not because the universe is new that the act is unprecedented. In 2016, an American player told in a post published on Medium that she suffered a similar attack in “QuiVr”, a virtual reality game in which she plays as archers. She explains that a player has it “He continued with close pinching movements [sa] chest. Encouraged, he even thrust his hand towards [son] virtual horse and started scrubbing. “
While these two attacks are explicit, others are more subtle. Just type “tea bag” on YouTube. For those without the codes, the scene might seem almost funny. On the screen we see an avatar on the ground on which other avatars are doing a sort of squat. Symbolically, it is a question of placing one’s testicles on the face of the defeated player. Code issuance.
Geeks and golden boys, two cultures of “testosterone”.
These incidents remind us that the metaverse is not synonymous with “safe place”, for women in particular, but for all “non-crypto brothers” in general. “This phenomenon is the result of the convergence of two hitherto antagonistic cultures,geeks and golden boys, analyzes François Peretti, senior planner at Nicky advertising and marketing agency. The misogyny inherent in this cryptoeconomy is at the crossroads of the geek ideology that only a handful of insiders master and the testosterone and adrenaline-pumping imaginations of traders. “
In other words, the metaverse is at the crossroads of two worlds that are mostly virile, even hostile to women: technology and finance. This is demonstrated by the recent sexist campaigns of cyber attacks of which two MEPs have been victims, the French Aurore Lalucq, for her support for European legislation aimed at regulating crypto-assets, and the Belgian Assita Kanko, co-rapporteur of the draft directive.
Aggravating circumstance, these universes are used on the net. Who says network, says interactions. Sometimes for the worse. Trolling, raiding, slut shaming, pack harassment, cyberstalking or bullying … there are many violent practices against women. In 2019, 44% of French people said they had been a victim or witness of sexism on social networks, according to data collected by Statista. “Online toxicity towards women is palpable”, underlines Stella Jacob, gamer and narrative designer. One figure is regularly posted on specialized sites: 77% of players have been the victim of harassment. That’s why six out of ten female players prefer to play with a male avatar.
Fine of up to 30,000 euros
Since August 2018, the law to combat sexual and gender-based violence online has been strengthened by adding plurality of perpetrators to the repeat of the attacks. The target. the goal? Penalize digital raids carried out by multiple people acting in concert (or not). But beware, it only takes once to be condemned. The penalties incurred: two years of imprisonment and a 3 thousand euro fine.
To convince those who doubt it, on the occasion of International Women’s Day, a professional player known under the pseudonym of Jkaem, one of the best of “Counter-Strike: Global Offensive” tried to play with a female avatar. In a few minutes, comments rained down: “your voice is lovely”, “Your boobs will serve as a bulletproof net” or, in any case, “girls can’t play”. He also made more obscene remarks.
Because online, the body matters. A small historical reminder: these crypto bros are the direct descendants of geeks, yesterday “abnormal” rebels (in other words “nerds” marginalized by society), today in a position of domination (economic, professional, cultural, etc.). And above all they are not women. Hence the emergence of the phenomenon of the “Fake Geek Girl” (the fake geek) who makes fun of players because they are not real geeks. As a result, geek Pete Warden notes: “Our deep sense of victimhood has become a perverse justification for bullying”, in his article “Why Nerd Culture Must Die” (2014).
When will the digital wild west end?
In the metaverses, “these nerds want to be alpha males”, summarizes Stella Jacob. Most importantly, they are currently navigating a truly digital wild west. Moderation tools are still in their infancy today.
Following the attack of the tester avatar in Horizon Worlds, Mark Zuckerberg’s company came up with the first technical solutions. These include a “safe zone” option, which allows you to teleport your avatar to a safe space if you feel threatened. Or “block” or “report” buttons, made available to users against avatars who insult them or behave badly towards them. And also the establishment of a “personal boundary” (“security bubble”), which establishes a perimeter of one meter distance between the avatars.
There are also other examples of virtual justice experiments. Introduced in May 2011, a course was tested in the “League of Legends” game. This feature allowed players to evaluate specific cases in which players had reported another player’s behavior and to decide what action to take. Those who reported were rewarded in tokens. A feature that has allowed the community to regulate itself. But the test stopped there.
“Bandage on an open wound”
“Moderation is generally like a bandage on an open wound”, recalls Stella Jacob, a specialist in these topics. Before indicating: “Especially since it is generally up to the victim to take action and withdraw to be safe. “ OK, metaverses in the video game and social network line aren’t very inclusive of women. “It is difficult for women to enter this world”, adds François Peretti. Shouldn’t we go there?
“Go ahead” the specialists of the sector answer in chorus. The most optimistic highlight the “infinite possibilities” offered by metaverses and while they do not avoid deviant behavior, they rely on the self-regulation of online communities. They recall that the minority of crypto bros is opposed by a large majority of market operators who do not intend to deprive themselves of half of humanity.
The initiatives that illustrate this desire for change are multiplying: be it the feminist blockchain manifesto published by Claudia Hart, the cryptocurrency / NFT investment by Pussy Riots, the Ladies Get Paid club or the NFTs of ‘Emily Ratajkowski and that of the world of women “, participating in the rise of cryptofeminism.
45% of cryptocurrency investors are women
Men still invest twice as much as women in cryptocurrencies (16% versus 7%), according to an American survey conducted in 2021 by the company Acorns and the CNBC media. But women are seriously starting to take an interest in it. According to a 2022 study by Gemini, 47% of “cryptocurius” people are women. It is also in France that women are taking the plunge, as, according to this study, nearly half (45%) of cryptocurrency investors are women.
The evolution of behaviors will also pass through the training and recruitment of women to design the metaverses. Ridouan Abagri, director of the first school exclusively dedicated to these worlds, which opens its doors in September in Paris, knows this and wants to encourage as many women as possible to train. A necessary gamble since today only a fifth (20%) of the IT workforce are women. Undoubtedly, the challenges are many. But how can we hope to make this new world a “safe space” for women when all the rest of the “real” world is so far from being one?