Imagine you had to moderate a Facebook comment thread, only each commenter was able to come up to you, wave their hands in your face, and scream whatever they want.
That’s what some moderators of Facebook virtual reality platform Horizon Worlds are dealing with, and it looks just as nightmarish as it sounds.
“Trying to not smash my headset, like in frustration,” one Horizon Worlds Community Guide with the screen name Peanutbutter can be heard saying in a TikTok uploaded by @vrpranksters after interacting with a bunch of kids fighting and screaming over a virtual boomerang.
“Shhhh, can you guys stop?” Peanutbutter asks the screaming kids as he floats away to a quiet corner and attempts to help an older man navigate Horizon Worlds’ menus. “Please, I’m trying to actually help an adult here.”
Peanutbutter sighs loudly and approaches the group of kids. “You guys know you’re not supposed to hit each other in here and yet you’re doing it?” he asks.
Most people don’t know this because they don’t have virtual reality headsets, but Facebook isn’t just talking about the “metaverse” and selling Oculus devices. It is actively letting people create virtual reality spaces and hosting its own with a flagship VR platform it calls Horizon Worlds.
Facebook says that Horizon Worlds allows users to find and create “communities” in VR, which understandably requires what the company calls “Community Guides,” people who appear in these spaces in order to help users who are new to VR and also do some basic moderation.
Are you a Horizon Worlds Community Guide or Meta moderator? We’d love to hear from you. You can contact Emanuel Maiberg at firstname.lastname@example.org.
According to Facebook’s website, Community Guides, which you can identify by the title in their name tag, “are there to help you learn about all there is to know in Horizon Worlds. From highlighting new experiences to basic tips and tricks, they’re around to help make your experience enjoyable.” According to Facebook, “Community guides can also flag our trained safety specialists if they see or learn of inappropriate behavior, so let them know if you become aware of something that’s making Horizon Worlds feel unsafe or uncomfortable.”
In one video uploaded to YouTube, a user briefly interviews a Community Guide, who is reluctant to get into details but says he works for Facebook and did “tech support” before he worked on Horizon Worlds.
If there’s one thing that has become painfully obvious from the yearslong shellacking Facebook has taken over the many harms it has inflicted on the world, it’s that it needs to do a better job moderating the massive platforms it owns. It’s great to see that it’s at least thinking about moderation as it pushes into the new area of VR. However, actually embodying moderators and letting them interact with users in a simulacrum of the real world is a new attempt by Facebook, and judging by some videos uploaded by Horizon Worlds users, an absolute nightmare for these Community Guides.
While @vrpranksters seems to just be a witness to this particular interaction, it is one of a few TikTok and YouTube accounts dedicated to VR “pranks,” which create videos in which they actively troll users and Community Guides for fun.
In one Merry VR Pranksters video uploaded to YouTube, titled “MOST PATIENT MetaVerse employee EVER?!?!”, we get the first-person perspective of a user deliberately annoying a Community Guide. The guide says he’s removing users from the world “because they’re under 13” using in-game menus (it appears that kids are the source of a lot of pain for both Community Guides and average users, according to reviews of Horizon Worlds on Oculus’ website). Only he can see the menus pop up in front of him, but the so-called prankster is deliberately and repeatedly stepping into his personal space to obstruct his view.
“You’re in my menu right here, bro,” the guide says and tries to politely shoo him away. But the prankster comes back and throws a paper airplane at his head.
“It’s amazing what you can do in the metaverse,” the prankster says.
“Yeah, the future, right?” the guide replies.
In another video uploaded to YouTube titled “COMMUNITY GUIDES SUCK!”, a user recorded himself repeatedly throwing a boomerang at a Community Guide’s face and accusing other users of hacking.
These Community Guides specifically moderate the Horizon Worlds “plaza” area, an introductory space users are dropped into right after a tutorial. I asked Facebook more questions about how the company uses Community Guides but did not immediately hear back.
Facebook’s other attempts at moderating Horizon Worlds don’t seem very effective so far either. BuzzFeed recently published a story in which it deliberately built a space filled with conspiracy theory content, which stayed up even after BuzzFeed reported it to the company. Facebook also recently introduced a “personal boundaries” feature after users complained about virtual “groping” and the kind of harassment you can see in the video above.