Two Senate Democrats sent a letter to Meta CEO Mark Zuckerberg on Wednesday calling on him to halt the Facebook parent company’s plans to offer a metaverse app to teenagers.
Sens. Ed Markey (Mass.) and Richard Blumenthal (Conn.) said in the letter that they sent it in response to media reports that Meta wants to “draw in more teen and young-adult users” for its metaverse offerings and open its metaverse platform, Horizon Worlds, for users ages 13 to 17.
“In light of your company’s record of failure to protect children and teens and a growing body of evidence pointing to threats to young users in the metaverse, we urge you to halt this plan immediately,” they said.
The letter and a description of Horizon Worlds on the platform’s website states that it is a “virtual universe with thousands of experiences” for users to connect with people, play games and attend live events.
The senators argue in their letter that the experiences that teenagers would have are different from those of a virtual-reality headset where they play a specific single-player game, and initial findings on the metaverse’s effects on teenagers are “highly concerning.”
They cited research that found young people’s exposure to the metaverse allows for an invasion of privacy: data collected on eye and face movement, an increased ability to persuade users, and physiological effects like nausea and eye strain.
They said young users could also be exposed to harassment, bullying, violent threats and sexual content.
Markey and Blumenthal said Meta’s plan is “particularly concerning” based on the company’s “consistent failures” to protect younger users on its platforms like Facebook and Instagram.
They mentioned reports showing that the Messenger app for children between 6 and 12 years old had a flaw that allowed them to interact with strangers. The company has also failed to stop advertisements for tobacco, alcohol and eating disorder content from reaching teenagers, and numerous teenage girls have attributed Instagram as the source of feeling poorly about their bodies.
“As our constituents grow increasingly concerned about the effects of online platforms and social media apps on teens’ well-being, your plans to imminently pull these young people into an under-researched, potentially dangerous virtual realm with consequences for their physical and mental health is unacceptable,” they said.