Pressure is mounting on Meta CEO Mark Zuckerberg to abandon plans to open Horizon Worlds, the tech giant’s flagship virtual reality platform, to children aged between 13 and 17.
In a joint letter, over 70 advocates for health, privacy, and children’s rights led by Fairplay, the Center for Digital Democracy (CDD), and the Center for Countering Digital Hate (CCDH) want the company to stop “putting profits ahead of children’s safety.”
The letter, signed by 36 organizations and 37 experts, argues that the metaverse is harmful to children and teens, citing a March research from CCDH that revealed that minors spotted using Horizon Worlds (which is currently only meant to allow users aged 18 and up) were routinely exposed to harassment and abuse—including sexually explicit insults and racist, misogynistic, and homophobic slurs.
The message accuses Zuckerberg of targeting kids and teens on Meta’s platforms with little regard for their impact on young people’s wellbeing. It also outlines the risk to minors’ privacy by collecting biomarkers without consent.
One of the letter’s signatory, Imran Ahmed, CEO of the Center for Countering Digital Hate, warned Meta to learn the lesson from Facebook and Instagram’s toxic impact on young people: “Meta is making the same mistake with Horizon Worlds that it made with Facebook and Instagram. They have prioritized profit over safety in their design of the product.”
Another signatory, Katharina Kopp, deputy director at the Center for Digital Democracy, echoed Ahmed’s sentiment: “Before Meta considers opening its Horizon Worlds metaverse operation to teens, it should first commit to fully exploring the potential consequences.”
Despite recently taking steps to reduce the company’s commitment to the metaverse, Meta’s head of global affairs Nick Clegg insisted that there is a big future in living in virtual worlds. “We’re going to stick with it,” he told reporters from a virtual space in Meta’s Horizon Workrooms last month.