Is “crypto bros” going to make a metavers hell for women?

The scene is violent. It happens at the end of December in Horizon Worlds, a test version of the meta-verse created by the Meta group (ex-Facebook). An English tester says that just a minute after being activated, her avatar was attacked by four other avatars who tried to touch her, insulted her and asked her to masturbate. She first tried to escape and ended up unplugging. She called what she experienced “rape.”

It is not because the universe is new that action is unprecedented. In 2016, an American player told in a post published on Medium that she had experienced a similar attack in “QuiVr”, a virtual reality game where you play as an archer. She explains that a player has it continued with pinching movements near [sa] breast. Encouraged, he even pushed his hand towards [son] virtual step and started rubbing. »

If these two attacks are explicit, others are more subtle. Just type “teabagging” on YouTube. For those who do not have the codes, the scene could seem almost funny. On the screen we see an avatar on the ground where other avatars do a kind of squat. It is symbolic, in fact, to place his testicles on the face of the defeated player. Code problem.

Geeks and golden boys, two “testosterone” cultures

These events remind us that the metaverse is not synonymous with a “safe place”, for women in particular, but for all “non-crypto-bros” in general. “This phenomenon is the result of the convergence of two hitherto antagonistic cultures,nerds and golden boys, analyzes François Peretti, senior planner at the advertising and marketing agency Nicky. The misogyny inherent in this crypto-economy is at the crossroads between the nerd ideology that only a handful of insiders master and the testosterone and adrenaline fantasy of traders. »

In other words, the meta-verse is at the crossroads between two worlds that are mostly virile, even downright hostile to women: technology and finance. This is evidenced by the recent sexist campaigns of cyberattacks, which two MEPs were victims of, the French Aurore Lalucq, for her support for European legislation aimed at regulating cryptocurrencies, and the Belgian Assita Kanko, co-rapporteur for the draft directive.

Digital raids

Aggravating circumstance, these universes are used in networks. Who says network, says interactions. Sometimes for the worse. Trolling, raids, slut shaming, harassment in droves, cyberstalking or bullying … there are many violent practices against women. In 2019, 44% of French people said they had been victims or witnesses of sexism on social networks, according to figures collected on Statista. “Online, the toxicity to women is palpable”, points out Stella Jacob, gamer and narrative designer. One figure is regularly posted on specialized websites: 77% of gamblers have been victims of harassment. Therefore, six out of ten female players prefer to play with a male avatar.

Fine of up to 30,000 euros

Since August 2018, the law on combating sexual and gender-based violence online has been strengthened by adding the majority of perpetrators to the recurrence of attacks. The goal? Penalty digital raids carried out by several persons acting together (or not). But beware, it only takes one time to be convicted. The penalties: two years’ imprisonment and a fine of 3,000 euros.

To convince those who doubt it, a professional player known under the pseudonym Jkaem, one of the best on “Counter-Strike: Global Offensive”, experienced on the occasion of International Women’s Day playing with a female avatar. Within minutes, the comments rained: “your voice is lovely”, “Your breasts will serve as your bulletproof net” or at least “girls can not play”. He also reported several obscene remarks.

Because online, the body means something. A little historical reminder: these cryptobros are the direct descendants of nerds, yesterday’s “abnormal” rebels (in other words “nerds” excluded from society), today in a dominant position (economic, professional, cultural, etc.). And above all, they are not women. Therefore, the phenomenon of “Fake Geek Girl” (the fake nerd) arises, which mocks the players because they are not real nerds. As a result, nerd Pete Warden notes: “Our deep sense of victimhood has become a perverted justification for bullying,” in his article “Why Nerd Culture Must Die” (2014).

When does the digital wild west end?

In the meta-verses, “these nerds want to be alpha males”, sums up Stella Jacob. Above all, they are currently sailing in a veritable digital wild west. Moderation tools are still in their infancy today.

Following the aggression of the tester’s avatar in Horizon Worlds, Mark Zuckerberg’s company envisioned the first technical solutions. Among them a “safe zone”, which allows you to teleport your avatar to a safe space if you feel threatened. Or “block” or “report” buttons made available to users against avatars who offend them or behave badly towards them. And even the establishment of a “personal boundary” (“safe bubble”), which establishes a circumference at a distance of one meter between the avatars.

There are also other examples of virtual justice experiments. Introduced in May 2011, a court was tested in the game “League of Legends”. This feature allowed players to assess specific cases where players had reported another player’s behavior and decide what to do. Those who reported were rewarded in tokens. A function that enabled society to self-regulate. But the test stopped there.

“Bandage on a gaping wound”

“Moderation is generally like a bandage on a gaping wound,” remembers Stella Jacob, a specialist in these matters. Before you point: “Especially since it is generally up to the victim to act and withdraw to be safe. » OK, metavers in the line of video games and social networks are not very inclusive for women. “It is difficult for women to enter this world”, adds François Peretti. Shouldn’t we go there?

“Go ahead” answers in the choir specialists in the sector. The most optimistic highlight the “infinite possibilities” offered by metavers, and while they do not avoid deviant behavior, they rely on self-regulation from online communities. They recall that the minority of crypto bros are opposed by a large majority of market participants who do not intend to deprive themselves of half of humanity.

Initiatives that illustrate this desire for change are manifold: whether it’s the feminist blockchain manifesto published by Claudia Hart, Pussy Riots ‘investment in cryptocurrencies / NFTs, the Ladies Get Paid Club or the NFTs of’ Emily Ratajkowski and the one from the “world of women” participating in the emergence of cryptofeminism.

45% of crypto investors are women

Men still invest twice as much as women in cryptocurrencies (16% compared to 7%), according to a US survey conducted in 2021 by the company Acorns and the media CNBC. But women are starting to get really interested in it. According to a 2022 Gemini study, 47% of “cryptocurrency” people are women. It is also in France that women take the plunge the most, as almost half (45%) of crypto investors, according to this study, are women.

The development of behavior will also go through training and recruiting women to design the metavers. Ridouan Abagri, director of the first school dedicated exclusively to these worlds, which opens its doors in September in Paris, knows this and wants to encourage as many women as possible to train. A necessary effort, as only one-fifth (20%) of the IT workforce today is women. There is no doubt that the challenges are many. But how can we hope to make this new world a “safe space” for women when the whole rest of the “real” world is so far from being one?

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