The metaverse is a digital space which has the potential to be so real and immersive that it might blur the line between our physical and virtual lives. This working paper, a joint effort by The Alliance for Universal Digital Rights and Vulnera, was written to assess the impact of the metaverse on human vulnerability.
Technology companies promise that it will bring about a newly empowered, just, and equitable society, by removing physical barriers to social participation and enhancing human capabilities and experiences. But there are many factors to consider when discussing what the metaverse should be, how significant it might become, and how it will affect both the individual and society.
Recommendations for responsible and human-rights-centred digital development
On the one hand, the report acknowledges the positive impact the metaverse could have in empowering individuals and enhancing human capabilities, particularly for 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.
The paper questions why the metaverse is being developed, how it will be created and accessed, who will be creating it, and how it is defined. It also explores the nuances and definitions of vulnerability and positions human vulnerability within the context of the metaverse to consider its impact.
In light of these findings, 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.
As the metaverse continues to gain momentum and attract widespread interest, the potential risks and vulnerabilities must be acknowledged and mitigated.