Facebook Misinformation Is Bad Enough, The Metaverse Will Be Worse

The Rand Corporation is an American (nonprofit) think tank. And veliath (Slashdot reader #5,435) spotted their recent warning about “a plausible scenario that could soon take place in the metaverse.”
A political candidate is giving a speech to millions of people. While each viewer thinks they are seeing the same version of the candidate, in virtual reality they are actually each seeing a slightly different version. For each and every viewer, the candidate’s face has been subtly modified to resemble the viewer…. The viewers are unaware of any manipulation of the image. Yet they are strongly influenced by it: Each member of the audience is more favorably disposed to the candidate than they would have been without any digital manipulation.

This is not speculation. It has long been known that mimicry can be exploited as a powerful tool for influence. A series of experiments by Stanford researchers has shown that slightly changing the features of an unfamiliar political figure to resemble each voter made people rate politicians more favorably. The experiments took pictures of study participants and real candidates in a mock-up of an election campaign. The pictures of each candidate were modified to resemble each participant. The studies found that even if 40 percent of the participant’s features were blended into the candidate’s face, the participants were entirely unaware the image had been manipulated.

In the metaverse, it’s easy to imagine this type of mimicry at a massive scale.

At the heart of all deception is emotional manipulation. Virtual reality environments, such as Facebook’s (now Meta’s) metaverse, will enable psychological and emotional manipulation of its users at a level unimaginable in today’s media…. We are not even close to being able to defend users against the threats posed by this coming new medium…. In VR, body language and nonverbal signals such as eye gaze, gestures, or facial expressions can be used to communicate intentions and emotions. Unlike verbal language, we often produce and perceive body language subconsciously….

We must not wait until these technologies are fully realized to consider appropriate guardrails for them. We can reap the benefits of the metaverse while minimizing its potential for great harm.

They recommend developing technology that detect the application of this kind of VR manipulation.

“Society did not start paying serious attention to classical social media — meaning Facebook, Twitter, and the like — until things got completely out of hand. Let us not make the same mistake as social media blossoms into the metaverse.”

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