Hello,

We noticed you're browsing in private or incognito mode.

To continue reading this article, please exit incognito mode or log in.

Not an Insider? Subscribe now for unlimited access to online articles.

A View from Mary Mossey

Virtual Trolls

Social VR has incredible potential. Anonymity has a chance to get in the way of that.

  • June 27, 2017

One powerful thing about virtual reality is the way it lets you stand “face to face” with other people—sometimes people from the other side of the world who you’d never otherwise meet. People in social VR settings really tend to connect. I’ve seen people meet and become friends in VR and then continue the friendship in real life. I’ve seen people meet their significant others in virtual reality.

But this only works when people appear as their real selves. And one huge problem with social interactions in virtual reality is the degree of anonymity we’re finding there. It can alienate people who would otherwise be interested in giving social VR a try.

People using anonymity or maintaining a little more privacy isn’t always bad—a shy person might feel able to shake off awkwardness and adopt a more easygoing personality, for example. But what we see too often among the anonymous is bad behavior. With no real name or face it becomes easy to treat people in a critical or abusive way.

This story is part of our July/August 2017 Issue
See the rest of the issue
Subscribe

We are in the early stages of VR, much like the Internet in the 1990s. There are no rules and no law of the land. We are all learning what is okay and what isn’t. And as in those early Internet days, we’re learning that anonymity causes a degree of chaos and undesirable behaviors. It removes accountability. Anonymity lets people bully others without repercussions.

There’s no simple solution to the problem. Improvements in the areas of friend connections, avatars, and interaction design have helped, but haven’t solved it. App creators can help by creating clear standards, including repercussions for bad behavior. Benefits such as customized avatars, extra capabilities, and new features might help coax people to come out of the shadows and engage more authentically.

Whatever we try, it will be worth the effort. Social VR lets people connect and communicate in a way that’s much more natural, more effective, and richer in context than current methods of communicating over a long distance. I’d like people to think about VR as a place you can go to express yourself authentically and connect with others. Within that space there’s fantastic potential for education, business, science, art, and entertainment. Anonymity kills that potential.

Mary Mossey is a product manager at AltspaceVR, which uses virtual reality to create a new communications platform.

Hear more about virtual reality from the experts at the EmTech Digital Conference, March 26-27, 2018 in San Francisco.

Learn more and register

Uh oh–you've read all of your free articles for this month.

Insider Premium
$179.95/yr US PRICE

More from Connectivity

What it means to be constantly connected with each other and vast sources of information.

Want more award-winning journalism? Subscribe and become an Insider.
  • Insider Premium {! insider.prices.premium !}*

    {! insider.display.menuOptionsLabel !}

    Our award winning magazine, unlimited access to our story archive, special discounts to MIT Technology Review Events, and exclusive content.

    See details+

    What's Included

    Bimonthly magazine delivery and unlimited 24/7 access to MIT Technology Review’s website

    The Download: our daily newsletter of what's important in technology and innovation

    Access to the magazine PDF archive—thousands of articles going back to 1899 at your fingertips

    Special discounts to select partner offerings

    Discount to MIT Technology Review events

    Ad-free web experience

    First Look: exclusive early access to important stories, before they’re available to anyone else

    Insider Conversations: listen in on in-depth calls between our editors and today’s thought leaders

  • Insider Plus {! insider.prices.plus !}* Best Value

    {! insider.display.menuOptionsLabel !}

    Everything included in Insider Basic, plus ad-free web experience, select discounts to partner offerings and MIT Technology Review events

    See details+

    What's Included

    Bimonthly magazine delivery and unlimited 24/7 access to MIT Technology Review’s website

    The Download: our daily newsletter of what's important in technology and innovation

    Access to the magazine PDF archive—thousands of articles going back to 1899 at your fingertips

    Special discounts to select partner offerings

    Discount to MIT Technology Review events

    Ad-free web experience

  • Insider Basic {! insider.prices.basic !}*

    {! insider.display.menuOptionsLabel !}

    Six issues of our award winning magazine and daily delivery of The Download, our newsletter of what’s important in technology and innovation.

    See details+

    What's Included

    Bimonthly magazine delivery and unlimited 24/7 access to MIT Technology Review’s website

    The Download: our daily newsletter of what's important in technology and innovation

/
You've read all of your free articles this month. This is your last free article this month. You've read of free articles this month. or  for unlimited online access.