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Meta Adds ‘Personal Boundary’ Zones in VR to Limit Harassing Behavior

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Meta Adds 'Personal Boundary' Zones in VR to Limit Harassing Behavior

It’s disappointing, but one thing that you can always be certain of with any socially-aligned technology is that some people are going to use it to harass and abuse others, in any way that they can.

Most recently, that’s come up in virtual reality, with various incidents of women being attacked in Meta’s evolving VR world, in exceedingly concerning ways.

Back in December, The Verge reported that a beta tester for Meta’s Horizon Worlds functionality, which is its social media replacement in VR, was groped by a stranger within the digital realm. Then earlier this month, a woman said that she had been virtually gang-raped” in the VR environment.

These are obviously major problems, especially as Meta looks to make a bigger shift towards VR as part of its metaverse development. Which is why today, again disappointingly, Meta has been forced to implement a new personal boundary for VR avatars in both Horizon Worlds and Horizon Venues.

As explained by Meta:

“Personal Boundary prevents avatars from coming within a set distance of each other, creating more personal space for people and making it easier to avoid unwanted interactions. Personal Boundary will begin rolling out today everywhere inside of Horizon Worlds and Horizon Venues, and will by default make it feel like there is an almost 4-foot distance between your avatar and others.”

This is why we can’t have nice things.

Of course, functionally, that doesn’t change much in the current VR space, it’s only disappointing in the fact that we need such measures at all. But again, evidently, we do, and with Meta seeking to convert as many people as it can over to its new, more immersive connection spaces – especially with its main app now losing active users – it’s obviously felt the need to implement such protection measures immediately to avoid any further harm and negative reports.

Because as Jeff Goldblum’s character notes in Jurassic Park: “nature finds a way”, which works in both a positive and negative sense. Social media platforms have provided more ways to stay connected with others than ever before, we’re now more able to find more like-minded people, learn more about other cultures, and explore individual niches and interests in ways that simply weren’t possible in times past.

But social media has also facilitated the formation of increasingly harmful groups, the concerted harassment of people with dissenting opinions, the spread of misinformation and disinformation at huge scale, and the objectification and violation of users for any reason that people may choose.

Users should not have to deal with these elements, we should, in theory, be able to utilize these technologies for good, which has been the underlying hope of social media CEOs and visionaries, who’ve often seemingly turned a blind eye to the flip-side of the coin. But the impact of such harms is significant, arguably more significant than the positives, on balance.

But there’s no going back now, social platforms are already embedded into how we interact, which means that the host providers simply have to work at improving their systems to cater for misuse, and counter it wherever they can.

It’s not possible to eliminate such behavior entirely. Again, this is human nature, and as Meta’s executives have repeatedly noted, its platforms are merely a reflection of society and broader societal trends. It’s not Meta’s fault that people have negative impulses and choose to project them via its apps.

But then again, it also is – which is why Meta is doing all it can to address these issues.

VR opens up all new forms of harassment, and will provide a medium for many more incidents like this. And that’s before we get into the more questionable use cases for VR technology, and the impacts that they might have on people’s behavior.

Surely putting users into a more immersive, virtual environment where they can harass and demean people, and commit fictional crimes, is not great for their mental approach to real life, and how they can act in public. Yet, that’s very likely where we’re headed, with Meta set to launch Grand Theft Auto in VR sometime this year.

GTA in VR

It does look like an interesting and engaging gaming experience. But the way that characters are treated in GTA is overly negative, and various studies have shown that playing violent video games in 2D, especially GTA, form can increase aggressive behaviors, and desensitize people to violence.

I can only imagine the same applies more directly to a fully immersive experience like this. Of course, GTA VR will be rated R, and will only, theoretically, be available to adults. Just like every other GTA game.

It’s a major concern – when you’re building an alternative world, with more stimulants and more inputs to immerse yourself into an entirely different environment, that also cranks up the risk factors, and could lead to much bigger mental and developmental impacts in different ways.

But again, tech CEOs seem blinded by the positives and the potential of what’s to come. This will replace real-world interactions, and create all new ways to interact, and to share unique experiences with your loved ones, reducing loneliness and enabling virtually anything that you can dream of.

But not all dreams are filtered through a positive lens, and not all people will be aligned in the same approach.

Overlooking the negatives might help Meta make more money, but it will also lead to more real-world harm, in many ways.

Building in buffer zones for avatars is a disappointingly necessary development. But it’s likely only the start.


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These Guys Are Stupid, And I'm Being Charitable

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These Guys Are Stupid, And I'm Being Charitable

Why do some organizations still solicit funds the way they did in the 1960s? You need to take a smarter marketing approach, or you’ll waste money like they do. I’m still getting about two bucks a month in cash from stupid, misguided charities that insist on sending me actual money in the mail. I get …

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Internal Documents Reveal That the New Twitter Blue Has Fewer Than 300k Subscribers at Present

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Internal Documents Reveal That the New Twitter Blue Has Fewer Than 300k Subscribers at Present

Look, I know people have strong opinions about Elon Musk, and I realize that any criticism is going to be viewed as political commentary, even if it’s not (because I’m not American, I can’t vote, I don’t care about Hunter Biden, etc.). But Elon’s paid verification program is dumb, the dumbest move that he’s made at Twitter to date.

And I understand the logic – Elon says that when he came on, the company was losing $4 million per day, which lead to mass lay-offs, and a scramble for revenue generation options.

Paid verification, then, makes sense, while Elon also extrapolated the need for immediate cash into a pathway to combat bots, by using verification as a means to ‘verify all the real humans’ – i.e. bots won’t pay, and bot peddlers won’t be able to afford such at scale.

I get all the moving parts, and optimistically, they may sense.

But realistically, which is the more important ‘ally’ of the two, it just doesn’t.

Because most people won’t pay, especially when you’re offering nothing much in return, other than a graphic of a tick next to their username, while the very act of selling verification ticks erases their only perceptual value, that being exclusivity.

Now, everyone can buy one, so the tick is meaningless, at least as a status marker of some form.

My perspective on this been vindicated, at this early stage at least, by a new report from The Information, which says that, according to internal documents:

Around 180,000 people in the US were paying for subscriptions to Twitter, including Twitter Blue, as of mid-January, or less than 0.2% of monthly active users […] The U.S. number is about 62% of Twitter’s global subscriber total, the document says, which implies Twitter has 290,000 global subscribers.”

That’s consistent with the findings of researcher Travis Brown, who’s been posting regular updates on Twitter Blue subscriber numbers, based on searches of users that show up as ‘blue_verified’ in the back-end.

At present, based on Brown’s figures, the new Twitter Blue program looks to have around 300,000 subscribers, very close to the data The Information has seen.

That would mean that Twitter’s currently bringing in an extra $2.4 million per month via the program, or $7.2 million per quarter. Which is pretty good, that’s extra income at a time when Twitter desperately needs it. But it’s still way, way off from where Twitter wants its subscription revenue intake to be.

To reiterate, when initially outlining his Twitter 2.0 reformation plans, Elon said that he wants to make subscription revenue around 50% of Twitter’s overall intake. That would align somewhat with the aforementioned revenue and bot-battling potential – but in order to do this, Twitter needs to increase Twitter Blue take-up 81x its current state.

300k sign-ups is also only 0.12% of Twitter’s active user base – so to reiterate, revenue-wise, it’s not close to meeting goals, and as a bot disincentive, it’s nowhere near meeting its aims. And while Twitter has just this weekend rolled out Twitter Blue to more regions, there’s just no way that it’s ever going to reach the levels required to make it a viable consideration in either respect.

Which means that all the mucking around, all the impersonation issues, all the gold checks and gray ticks and square profile images and brand logos. All of this has, on balance, been a waste of time.

It’s not nothing – again, Twitter needs all the extra money it can get right now, and a $29 million annual boost in intake will help. But functionally, it’s been a series of blunders and missteps, one after the other.

And now, Twitter wants brands to pay $1,000 a month for a gold tick?

Yeah, safe to say that’s not going to be a roaring success either. And while Twitter will likely get a few more Twitter Blue sign-ups when it removes legacy blue checks sometime in future, that’s still only 420k extra subscribers, max.

The churn rate will also be high – because again, a blue tick isn’t valuable anymore if everyone can buy one – and unless Elon and Co. have some magic updates to build into Twitter Blue in future, beyond Blue-only polls or paying to qualify for monetization, I don’t see how this becomes a significant element of Twitter’s overall intake or process.

But maybe I’m missing something. Maybe, because it’s Elon Musk, we’ve missed the point, or the process, and there is actually another pathway to winning on this front that’s not been revealed as yet.

I don’t see it, but I can’t imagine the logistics of flying to Mars either, so maybe there’s more to come.

But I doubt it.



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Housebound Jordanian football fan a social media star

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Amer Abu Nawas was born with osteogenesis, or brittle bone disease, a genetic condition hindering normal bone growth that has meant he rarely leaves his home

Amer Abu Nawas was born with osteogenesis, or brittle bone disease, a genetic condition hindering normal bone growth that has meant he rarely leaves his home – Copyright AFP Khalil MAZRAAWI

Kamal Taha

Having spent most of his life housebound due to a medical condition, Jordanian Amer Abu Nawas’s love of football has propelled him to social media stardom.

Offering analysis of matches from the leading European football leagues to almost a quarter of a million followers, his Facebook page — “HouseAnalyzer” in Arabic — has grown into what he describes as a “big family”.

The 27-year-old was born with osteogenesis, or brittle bone disease, a genetic condition hindering normal bone growth that has meant he rarely leaves his home in Zarqa, 30 kilometres (18 miles) from Jordan’s capital Amman.

“It is true that I have never played football in my life, and have never attended any match, but for me football is everything,” Abu Nawas told AFP.

With no schools in the country catering to his needs, Abu Nawas grew up spending much of his time watching football matches, analysing the teams and playing football video games.

“This always made me feel like it is taking me from this world to a different one,” he said.

His relatives noticed his passion and encouraged him to publish his match analyses online.

In 2017, he launched his Facebook account, which now counts more than 243,000 followers.

– ‘Reach people’ –

Filmed on a phone in his bedroom, Abu Nawas’s videos usually feature him wearing a football jersey, excitedly commenting on matches and news from the world of football.

Discussing leagues from England, France, Germany, Italy and Spain, he sometimes uses a football pitch-shaped board to explain tactical nuances.

One of Abu Nawas’s latest videos reached more than 1.4 million viewers and he has started posting on YouTube, TikTok, Instagram and Twitter.

He said he was grateful for modern technology allowing him to connect with so many people.

“From this room, from this small place isolated from the world, I was able to cross these walls, reach people, communicate with them, create content, and become what I am today,” he said.

He expressed sadness at sometimes seeing people attack each other in comments to his posts, and said his relationship with his followers was “like a family”.

“This family is growing day by day, and I hope it will reach as many followers as possible,” he added.

Abu Nawas’s own family do their best to provide him with a comfortable life.

He is the youngest of three brothers and his father is a doctor and his mother a pharmacist.

Inside his room are shelves with a PlayStation, a computer and plastic baskets keeping items he might need.

On his bed are phones, remote controls, headphones and a long stick used to reach distant items.

– ‘Not an obstacle’ –

“He has his own world, in a room with a temperature of 27 degrees to avoid cold and pneumonia. He can operate anything using the remote control,” his father Yussef told AFP.

He said his son has friends who occasionally visit.

“When he feels bad, they take him out for a tour in a minibus,” he said.

Abu Nawas lamented that in Jordan “nobody cares” about people with diseases like his, and said he wished he had had the opportunity to attend school.

“The conditions for people with special needs are catastrophic,” he said.

“I could not learn because there are no special schools for people like me.”

Last year, the organisers of the football World Cup invited him to attend the tournament in Qatar.

But due to travel difficulties linked to his condition, he arrived late and missed the matches he was scheduled to attend.

Even so, Abu Nawas said it was “the best 10 days of my life”.

“I know my condition, I learned to be content, and I will remain so,” he said.

“Disability need not be an obstacle to success.”

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