MP spoke with Don Heider, chief executive of the Markkula Center for Applied Ethics at Santa Clara University, about the Metaverse. Heider is responsible for the Center’s vision, strategy, fundraising, and leadership. In addition to his role as executive director, Heider serves as the John Courtney Murray, S.J. University Professor of Social Ethics, and holds an appointment as a professor of communication.
What barriers prevent businesses from entering the Metaverse, and why?
Starting a business in the Metaverse should be viewed as similar to starting a business in a foreign country.
Most of us would never consider launching a business in Singapore or Tbilisi without first doing considerable research and living in the country for a time to understand the culture, norms, consumer habits, etc.
The Metaverse is the same.
Until you spend a reasonable amount of time living in the Metaverse, experiencing it, and talking with users, you will have little chance of successfully starting a business or even starting a branch of an existing business.
Hiring insiders to help is helpful, but having at least one team member with deep knowledge, experience, understanding, and listening to that person, would be more effective.
The more team members with deep knowledge, the better.
How can a poorly executed Metaverse strategy adversely affect a brand, and how can such a disaster be avoided?
If you don’t have a good understanding of and significant experience in the Metaverse, your product or service will be recognized immediately.
There is a clear demarcation between insiders and outsiders in these virtual worlds. Posing as an insider will not work because experienced residents have several ways they can spot a poser or “newbie” in short order.
This will give your business a black eye and damage its reputation. Recovery from which will be difficult, if not impossible.
This could also hurt a business’s reputation outside the Metaverse.
How will the Metaverse expose businesses and consumers to new types of fraud, and what steps can be taken to prevent such nefarious acts?
There are multiple levels of fraud that can take place in a virtual world.
Avatars can appear in your space, posing as representatives of your business and dupe users into paying for goods or services not indeed offered through your business.
Because what you sell in the Metaverse will be represented digitally, several programs have been devised to copy your product and replicate it.
The Metaverse platform you use should be designed to help you prevent fraud, with available preventive measures, quick responses to any concerns, and swift action against offenders.
However, this has often not been the case in previous digital worlds.
How can the Metaverse adversely affect our mental health, and what can we do to protect ourselves?
There are examples of harmful interactions for as long as online spaces have existed.
Harm can and will occur whether it is a text-based multi-user dungeon, a massively multiplayer online game, or a VR-based Metaverse.
Each avatar has a human behind it at a keyboard, with human emotions.
There is also a well-documented history of women and people of color being targeted for harassment in these spaces.
VR ups the stakes regarding potential harm people may suffer.
Aside from nausea and vertigo, recent research has illustrated additional negative physical consequences, including reduced cognitive performance, physical fatigue, and discomfort.
Because of its immersive nature, researchers have also shown that VR gameplay has the potential to elicit strong negative emotional responses that could be harmful to users.
Well-being for people in these alternate reality platforms lies both with the user and with the company that owns and operates the platform – such as Meta in the case of the Metaverse.
Interested in learning more about the Metaverse? MP covers many areas of the Metaverse, including business, ethics, legal, and more.
Companies constructing virtual worlds have a social responsibility toward their customers and the world. That means having mechanisms in place to help prevent harassment and a method of reporting and responding to reports from users who are targeted.
Is there anything else you would like to share?
To help guide users of the Metaverse platform and its developers, we have created a code of ethics to help.
A code of ethics is often a good starting point for discussing ethical issues.
We suggest it as a way to begin to think about behavior in these new virtual realms.
Treat others with respect and dignity. Though you see avatars on the screen in many forms and fashions, behind each avatar is a real human being and should be treated as such. People are never a means to an end but have inherent value for themselves.
Tell the Truth
People in virtual settings may take on different roles or identities for gaming, roleplay, or personal reasons. However, you should let others know if you are playing a role. Your life is your business, but we do not endorse lying, misleading, or deceiving others.
Do No Harm
Take no actions in the metaverse you know or suspect might harm another person or groups of people. Anticipate how your actions might impact others as best you can. Mitigate harm and work for good.
Your actions and words in the Metaverse consistently show care and concern for others. Concern and care for others are rooted in relationships and listening. Are you showing empathy for others? Do you appreciate the interests, feelings, and viewpoints of others?
Work for Good
Do not enable bad behavior. If you witness abuse or harassment, speak up, report it, and do not be silent. Does your behavior help make you a better person? Is this action I am taking, or are speaking these words consistent with acting my best? Are my efforts demonstrating mutual concern for the shared interests of all community members?
Acknowledge cultural differences and be open and receptive to the beauty of differences. Respect and appreciate the culture and ideas of others. Work toward mutual understanding.
Do not collect information and data from other metaverse citizens and disseminate it without their consent. Am I respecting other people’s right to keep certain information to themselves?
No code of ethics will be completely inclusive, but it often can serve as a way to get individuals and organizations to begin identifying and articulating important values. I believe it will be essential for companies like Meta and others to build ethics into their design process and invest in the resources needed to keep users safe.
Responses provided by Don Heider, Executive director at Markkula Center for Applied Ethics at Santa Clara University.