New Report Raises Concerns About Potential Social Inequalities, Abuse, and Mental Manipulation in the Metaverse

A new report underscores the need for governments and regulators to take responsibility for protecting the rights and equality of individuals in the metaverse.

NEW YORK, July 19, 2023 /PRNewswire/ — The metaverse has the potential to empower individuals, particularly those facing vulnerability in the real world, but could also accentuate social inequalities and increase the risk of abuse and manipulation. This is the finding of Human Vulnerability in the Metaverse, a new research paper that explores potential risks and challenges posed by the development of the metaverse. Co-developed by Vulnera and the Alliance for Universal Digital Rights (AUDRi) (co-founded by Equality Now and Women Leading in AI), the report emphasizes the need for careful consideration and proactive measures to protect the rights and well-being of individuals, particularly those who are vulnerable or marginalized.

Mark Zuckerberg popularised the idea of the metaverse in October 2021, announcing that Facebook would become Meta, and laid out his very particular vision of what this digital world might be. But the metaverse is neither a new concept nor a digital fad.

AUDRi Global Coordinator, Emma Gibson, explains: “It may seem that the debate around digital ethics has moved away from the metaverse and onto the ethics of large language models. But the ambition of creating an immersive experience replicating every aspect of our physical lives has not disappeared.

“Many governments see the metaverse as crucial to their country’s economic and social development, and discussions are taking place at the highest levels about the implications of the metaverse on development and digital transformation.

“We also see people already incorporating the metaverse into their lives, whether it be enabling remote work or for immersive entertainment like gaming.”

Overcoming particular vulnerabilities, enhancing others

The report acknowledges the positive impact the metaverse could have in empowering individuals, particularly those who experience vulnerability in the offline world. However, it also highlights the reinforcement of social inequalities due to the digital divide, limited access for certain groups, and the perpetuation of subordination and conformity within the virtual realm.

A particularly alarming aspect is the new channel for abuse that the metaverse provides, including sexual assault and image-based abuse. The hyper-realistic nature of the metaverse is expected to amplify the trauma caused by such offenses, and the lack of clear definitions and legal frameworks to address them is a pressing concern.

The report underscores the need for governments and regulators to take responsibility for protecting the rights and equality of individuals instead of shifting the burden of vulnerability mitigation to technology companies, which could lead to dependence on and acceptance of unfavorable terms and conditions.

Recommendations for responsible, human-rights-centered digital development

The report presents a set of recommendations for governments and regulators. These include requiring businesses developing the metaverse to follow the UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights, involving vulnerable groups in the design process, establishing guidelines for measuring the impact on human rights, and enacting new laws and policies to address gaps in the legal framework.

“We cannot responsibly talk about the potential of the metaverse without considering safety, accessibility, and how you create a metaverse which is human-centered and respects and promotes human rights,” Gibson says.

“We must not unintentionally roll back hard-won progress on equality as we enter this new digital space.”

Notes to editors:

For media requests, contact Lisa Van Wyk, AUDRi Communications Coordinator,
, Tel. +27732859016

About AUDRi: The Alliance for Universal Digital Rights (AUDRi) exists to explore ways of creating a digital future in which everyone can enjoy equal rights to safety, freedom, and dignity.

Co-founded by Equality Now and Women Leading in AI, AUDRi focuses on women, girls, and other people from discriminated-against groups, all of whom face intersecting forms of discrimination and gender-based stereotypes. For more information, go to, Twitter @AUDRights, LinkedIn AUDRi

About Vulnera: The International Observatory on Vulnerable People in Data Protection (Vulnera) is a research dissemination and networking platform focusing on the multifaceted connotations that the notion of human ‘vulnerability’ may assume in the data protection and privacy domains. For more information, go to VULNERA | Brussels Privacy Hub.

SOURCE Equality Now