June 29, 2022

Racism Could Ruin The Metaverse, Warns Blavity CTO

Jeff Nelson

The tech industry has spent a decade publicly reckoning with its diversity problem.

Still, Black and Hispanic workers hold just 7% and 8% of computer worker roles in the U.S., though they represent 11% and 17% of the country’s total workforce, respectively, according to the Pew Research Center.

With the Metaverse becoming increasingly popular, it’s important to hold those in power accountable.

Earlier this year, reporter Yinka Bokinni wrote a piece in the Guardian about her experiences in the Metaverse.

“But within the first 10 minutes of putting on a VR headset and entering a chat room, I saw underage kids simulating oral sex on each other. I experienced sexual harassment, racism, and rape jokes. At one point, I heard someone say, ‘I like little girls from the age of nine to 12: that’s just my thing.'”

And she’s not the only one that’s seen this behavior.

Racism is also rife in the Metaverse.

Marginalized people often suffer the most harm from the unintended consequences of new technologies.

For example, the algorithms that automatically make decisions about who gets to see what content or how images are interpreted suffer from racial and gender biases.

People who have multiple marginalized identities, such as being Black and disabled, are even more at risk than those with a single marginalized identity.

Speaking on this exact issue, science and technology scholar Breigha Adeyemo wrote a personal essay for the Conversation, saying: “As a researcher who studies the intersections of race, technology, and democracy – and as a Black woman – I believe it is important to carefully consider the values that are being encoded into this next-generation internet.

“Problems are already surfacing. Avatars, the graphical personas people can create or buy to represent themselves in virtual environments, are being priced differently based on the perceived race of the avatar, and racist and sexist harassment is cropping up in today’s pre-metaverse immersive environments.”

The chief technology officer (CTO) of Blavity agrees more needs to be done.

“When you don’t have people at the table who have historically suffered harms or abuses, or who have to live with certain things in the back of their mind, then you don’t build platforms in a way that protects those people,” says Jeff Nelson, the co-founder and CTO of Blavity, an online media company geared toward Black millennial creators.

“You build platforms that can be used by people who want to extend harm to others, [and can] do so at scale,” he told CNBC.

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Abbianca Makoni

Abbianca Makoni is a content executive and writer at POCIT! She has years of experience reporting on critical issues affecting diverse communities around the globe.