People in the Metaverse – the Good, the Bad

On its way is the metaverse, and like any new technology, it brings both new chances and new risks, through the interactions of people.

People in the Metaverse - the Good, the Bad

The metaverse is a virtual reality version of the internet where people can interact with digital objects and digital versions of themselves and others, and move more or less freely from one virtual environment to another. It can also include augmented reality, which is a mix of the real world and the virtual world. People and things from the real world can be shown in the virtual world, and the virtual world can be brought into the real world.

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By putting on virtual reality headsets or augmented reality glasses, people will be able to hang out, worship, and work in places where the lines between the digital and the real are blurred. People will be able to find meaning and have experiences in the metaverse that are related to their lives in the real world.

There’s the catch. When people get attached to something, whether it’s digital, real, or a mix of the two, taking it away from them can hurt them emotionally. To put it another way, the things people value become weak spots that people who want to hurt them can take advantage of. People who want to do harm are already noticing that the metaverse could be a tool they can use.

As people who study terrorism at the National Counterterrorism Innovation, Technology, and Education Center in Omaha, Nebraska, we think the metaverse could have a bad side. Even though it is still being built, its growth will give extremists new ways to use fear, threats, and coercion to gain power. Based on what we know about how bad people can be creative and come up with new ideas, the metaverse could become a new place for terrorist activity.

To be clear, we don’t disagree with the idea of the metaverse. In fact, we’re excited about how it could help people get better. But we think that the growth of the metaverse will make new holes in security and give new ways to exploit them. Even though this list is not complete, here are three ways that the metaverse will make it harder to stop terrorism and other violent extremism.


First, online recruitment and engagement are two signs of modern extremism. The metaverse could make it easier for people to meet up, which could make it easier for extremists to recruit more people. Today, someone who wants to hear what Oath Keepers founder Stewart Rhodes has to say could read an article about his anti-government beliefs or watch a video of him talking to his followers about the coming martial law. Tomorrow, Rhodes or his AI stand-in will be able to sit on a virtual park bench with any number of potential followers and show them what the future will be like. This will be done by combining artificial intelligence and augmented reality in the metaverse.

In the same way, if bin Laden came back to life, he could meet with people who wanted to follow him in a virtual rose garden or lecture hall. Extremist leaders now have a new way to create and keep virtual ideological and social communities, as well as powerful, hard-to-stop ways to grow their numbers and spheres of influence.


Second, the metaverse gives people from different places new ways to coordinate, plan, and carry out acts of destruction. A strike against the Capitol? Extremist leaders could show their followers how to get to key objectives if they did enough research and gathered enough information. They could do this by creating virtual environments that look like any real building.

Members could learn about safe and effective routes, work together to find alternate routes if some are blocked, and make multiple backup plans in case something unexpected happens. When carrying out an attack in the real world, violent extremists can use augmented reality objects like virtual arrows to help guide them and find marked targets.

Extremists who want to do harm can plan their actions from their living rooms, basements, or backyards. They can do this while making friends and building trust with their peers and while appearing to others as the digital avatar they choose. Because they spent time in the metaverse, these extremist groups are more likely to be ready to act in the real world when their leaders tell them to.

The new goals

Lastly, new virtual and mixed reality spaces open the door to the possibility of new targets. People, places, and events can all be hurt in the real world, and the same can be done in the virtual world. Think about swastikas being put on synagogues, real-life activities like banking, shopping, and work being messed up, and public events being ruined.

For example, violent extremists might want to reenact the falling of the twin towers at a 9/11 memorial service set up and hosted in the virtual domain. Attackers who don’t like the fact that the couple is of the same religion or gender could try to stop the wedding. These actions would be hard on the mind and hurt people in the real world.

It might be easy to ignore the dangers of this mixed-reality world by saying it’s not real and, therefore, doesn’t matter. But as Nike gets ready to sell virtual shoes, it’s important to remember that people will spend real money in the metaverse. With real money, there are real jobs, and with real jobs, there is a real chance of losing a real way of life.

If someone destroys their augmented or virtual reality business, they will lose real money. Like real places, virtual spaces can be planned and built with care, giving them the same value that people give to things they have put time and effort into making. Also, as technology gets smaller and more a part of people’s daily lives, it might be harder for them to just turn off the metaverse and ignore the harm.

Getting ready for the new (virtual) world

Then, how do we deal with these new threats and weak spots? It makes sense for companies to say that hate or violence won’t be tolerated or that extremists will be found out and kicked out of their virtual spaces. We agree with these promises, but we don’t think they will be kept, especially after learning about Meta’s dangerous behavior on Facebook, Instagram, and WhatsApp. There are ways to make money from hate and division.

If corporations can’t keep the metaverse safe on their own, who can, and how?

Even though a full-fledged metaverse won’t be here for a few years, the potential threats it poses need to be looked at now by a wide range of people and organizations, including academic researchers, people who are building the metaverse, and people whose job it is to protect society. The threats mean that you have to think as creatively or more about the metaverse as people who want to do you harm. Everyone must be ready for this new way of life.

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