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The metaverse: A safe space for all?

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The metaverse: A safe space for all?

A child wearing an augmented reality headset or goggles smiles at the camera. Metaverse and safe space concept.

Image Credit: RyanJLane/Getty

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The collective internet is grappling with misinformation, toxicity, and censorship. In countries all over the world, this is exacerbated by social media networks being restricted or even controlled by the government.

Not only does this damage the foundations of free speech and collaboration that the Internet was built on, but it also estranges entire demographics from being able to participate in global dialogue and understanding.

While the early iterations of the metaverse have started to face similar challenges, it also holds a promise for a more decentralized architecture of the web, which could help to mitigate some of these issues. On the legacy Internet, content can be easily tracked, controlled and censored—but Web3 could create a more secure way of authentication and thus enable the creation of truly protected digital speech.

Censorship in the centralized web

Much of the centralized web is controlled by a few actors who can manipulate what users see. This has led to rampant censorship and control of information, as well as harassment and abuse of vulnerable groups. In some countries, the government restricts or even controls social media networks. This means that people are unable to raise their voices or speak their opinions freely.

For instance, as China faces heightened criticism of its zero-COVID policy, the country is censoring social media platforms, search engines, and even individual posts. In fact, a recent proposal by the Chinese government would require all online comments to be reviewed to ensure alignment with the party narrative.

Further, China’s handling of the Uyghur minority has drawn the ire of the international community. The Chinese government has been accused of mass surveillance, forced labor and even genocide against the Uyghur people. In response, China has censored social media platforms, significantly restricted internet access in the Xinjiang region, and used artificial intelligence to monitor and control the Uyghur population.

China is not alone. As Russia faces a populace questioning its foreign policy decisions, the government is pressuring platforms to censor content and restrict user access. Russia has a long history of internet censorship, and it’s now reaching new heights.

These are just a few examples of how social media networks are used to control and censor information. The centralized nature of the web makes it easy for those in power to manipulate what users see and silence dissenting voices.

The metaverse has no single definition, but the ultimate goal is to become a community-based, distributed, 3D internet where users can create avatars and interact with each other in digital spaces.

The censorship in Web2 is possible because of its centralized nature. The web is a series of tubes, and those in power can easily shut off the taps. The metaverse is a solution to this problem, as it is architecturally more censorship-resistant. With the underlying data stored across a decentralized network of nodes, it is much more difficult for authorities to censor or control information.

Further, the metaverse can be used to create “safe spaces” for vulnerable groups. For example, NFTs can be used as gateways to protected areas where only certain people have access. This would allow marginalized groups to interact with each other in a safe and secure environment.

To give another example, the virtual world Personal Boundary has implemented safety features like a “four-foot zone of personal space” around users’ avatars, and Roblox has strong safety features in place, including machine detection of unsafe content and rigorous chat filters. However, Roblox has not been immune to safety issues, as there have been reports of children being groomed by extremists on the platform, highlighting the importance of designing comprehensive safety features into virtual worlds.

The venture builder and consultancy newkinco initiated anitya space, a white-label solution that enables brands and influencers to create their own metaverse experiences. Newkinco works with organizations like the Goethe-Institut, a German cultural association active in 158 locations worldwide and Tales of Us, a multimedia production company, to create cultural experiences in the metaverse. Tales of Us interacts with kids, teenagers and their guardians to reach a global audience and to share narratives at the intersection of culture, community, and nature. By partnering with both organizations, they have been exploring how to gamify an immersive learning experience while safeguarding diverse digital safe spaces.

This is just the beginning. As the metaverse becomes more popular, it will become a space for cultural sharing and exchange, leading to a more inclusive and diverse web.

Challenges in the metaverse

The metaverse is not a panacea for the ills of the centralized web. In fact, we’ve already seen some of the worst aspects of the web play out in virtual worlds.

One major issue is “griefing”, which is when users harass or abuse others in digital spaces. This can take the form of flaming, trolling, doxxing, and even virtual assault. Griefing is a serious problem in multiplayer games like Second Life and Roblox, but it has also been an issue in regular online spaces.

Another issue is the “Wild West” feeling of the metaverse. There are no rules or regulations governing what can and cannot be done in virtual worlds. This lack of governance can lead to a feeling of lawlessness, which can be dangerous for users.

Finally, the metaverse is still very much in its infancy. The technical infrastructure is still being built, and there are very few “killer apps” that would make the metaverse essential for users.

Looking ahead

The metaverse is a promising solution to the problems of the centralized web. However, it is still in its early stages and faces many challenges.

As the metaverse grows and matures, we need to be mindful of the issues that have arisen in virtual worlds. We must learn from our mistakes and build an inclusive, safe, and secure metaverse for all. This means designing comprehensive safety features into virtual worlds, regulating grieving and harassment, and establishing user rules and guidelines.

Without these safeguards, the metaverse risks becoming an echo chamber for the worst aspects of the web. But with them, the metaverse has the potential to become a safe space for all. Implementing these steps, in practice, involves discussions between metaverse developers, platform holders, and civil society organizations to create a more inclusive and diverse digital future for everyone. 

While these conversations are ongoing, we can all help to create a better metaverse by using safety features on existing platforms, reporting harassment and abuse, and being respectful of other users.

Valerias Bangert is a strategy and innovation consultant, founder of three media outlets and published author.

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Web3 and the transition toward true digital ownership 

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Web3 and the transition toward true digital ownership 

NFT Marketplace and Decentralized Exchange Concept - A Marketplace for Non-fungible Tokens Based on New Web3 and Blockchain Technology - 3D Illustration

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How do you think you would answer if I asked you the following question: What do you own online?” 

In real life, you own your home, the car you drive, the watch you wear, and anything else you have purchased. But do you own your email address or your business’s website? How about the pictures that populate your Instagram account? Or the in-game purchases on Fortnite or FIFA video games or whatever else you are playing? 

My best guess is, after casting your mind through the things you use the internet for (which for everybody is pretty much everything, social and professional), you would struggle to find a solid answer. 

Maybe you would ask me to explain what I mean by “ownership.” But it doesn’t really matter. And while I don’t mean this to be a trick question, it kind of is. Because in the current version of the internet, we don’t have ownership rights online

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Digital ownership: Participants and products 

To understand why we don’t own anything online, we must first understand the evolution of the internet and how it gave rise to the business model that has dominated its current iteration. 

In the 1990s — the decade of desktop computers and dial-up connections — the internet was predominantly a content delivery network consisting of simple static websites showcasing information. What we refer to today as Web1 was slow, siloed, and disorganized. 

Next came the platforms, such as Facebook (now Meta) and Google, driven by wireless connectivity and the development of handheld devices like laptops, smartphones, and tablets, which gave us free-to-use services that enabled us to edit, interact with and generate content. These platforms centralized the web, putting in place a top-down structure that saw users reliant on their systems and services. 

This evolution of the internet took place in the mid-2000s and is the version we know today. We call it Web2. It is a model based on connectivity and user-generated content, made in the image and interests of companies like Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and YouTube. 

In this environment, netizens are both participants and products. We sign up for services in exchange for our data, which is sold to advertisers, and we create content that generates value and fuels engagement for these platforms. We do all this while having no rights to anything online.

Our social media profiles can be taken down and our access to email accounts or messenger apps suspended. We don’t own any of the digital assets we purchase and have no autonomy over our data. Businesses we build online are often reliant on platforms and are therefore vulnerable to algorithms, data breaches and shadow bans. 

The deck is stacked against us. Because the option not to be involved, when so much of the commerce and communication in the world takes place online, is not really an option at all. And yet there is nothing that we can point to and call ours. Nothing we have any actual authority over.

And, it is this dynamic that Web3 is determined to change. 

Web3 and the “internet of value” 

Right now, when most people hear the term “Web3” they probably think “metaverse”. But a better way to think about Web3 is as the evolution of the internet. 

Today, the digital experience is very corporate and very centralized. Web3 will offer the dynamic, app-driven user experience of the current mobile web in a decentralized model, shifting the power from big tech back to the users. It will do this by spreading the data outward — putting it back in the hands of netizens who are then free to use, share and monetize it as they see fit — and expanding the scale and scope of interactions between users and the internet. 

Underpinning that expansion will be guaranteed access, which means anyone can use any service without permissions and no one can block, restrict or remove any user’s access. 

The idea then is that Web3 will not only be more egalitarian but that it will create an “Internet of Value” because the value generated by the web will be shared much more equitably between users, companies, and services, with much better interoperability. Users will have full ownership, authority, and control over both the content they create and their data. But how will this help us transition toward true digital ownership? 

NFTs hold the key to digital ownership 

The truth is that digital ownership is not too hard a problem to solve. And we already have the solution: NFTs. 

In the public consciousness, NFTs are known for the projects that have garnered the most media attention, such as CryptoPunks and Bored Ape Yacht Club. While projects such as these have catapulted the term into the zeitgeist, the usefulness of the underlying technology has been much less discussed. 

Simply put, NFTs act as proof of ownership. The details of the NFT’s holder are recorded on the blockchain, all transactions and transfers are tracked and transparent and available to the public, and everything is managed by the token’s unique ID and metadata.

So, how does this work in practice? Let’s say I create an NFT. As soon as I upload it, a “smart contract” is created that tracks its creation, the current owner, and the royalties I will receive. If someone decides to purchase it, they own that NFT and any additional perks that come with ownership. Their details are registered on the blockchain and nobody can edit or remove them. 

Now, let’s say that the market for my NFTs starts to heat up, demand grows and the value of my collection begins to rise. If the owner decides to sell, they make a profit and I earn a small royalty from the resale. The change in ownership is tracked on-chain in real-time and the smart contract ensures my royalty fee is deposited directly in my wallet. This is the key value proposition of NFTs: Verifiable ownership and the option to liquidate digital assets. 

What’s next for Web3? 

This is what ownership looks like in Web3. It is the promise that netizens will be able to own their digital assets in the same way that they own their home, car and watch. NFTs will usher in a more equitable digital economy and will play a central role in the future of digital commerce. 

The fact is that as of right now, we are still writing the Web3 rulebook. This is still a very new, very young space. And while few things are certain, what we can say for sure is that the internet is only moving in one direction: ownership. 

The guiding principle in Web3 is to accelerate the transition towards a more equitable digital environment. It is very much opt-in, an internet built by the people for the people. It is one in which ownership is the foundation upon which new products, networks, and experiences are being built. And it is fundamental to establishing the internet of value. 

Over the next few years, as Web3 develops it will operate alongside Web2. The infrastructure supporting Web2 is very strong and I don’t see us completely shifting away from that any time soon. However, in the medium-to long-term, Web3 will completely reshape our relationship with the internet.

Filip Martinsson is cofounder and chief operating officer of Moralis.

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Apple blocked the latest Telegram update over a new animated emoji set

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Apple blocked the latest Telegram update over a new animated emoji set

Ever since Apple launched the App Store, developers big and small have gotten caught up in the company’s approval process and had their apps delayed or removed altogether. The popular messaging app Telegram is just the latest, according to the company’s CEO Pavel Durov. On August 10th, Durov posted a message to his Telegram channel saying the app’s latest update had been stuck in Apple’s review process for two weeks without any real word from the company about why it was held up. 

As noted by The Verge, the update was finally released yesterday, and Durov again took to Telegram to discuss what happened. The CEO says that Apple told Telegram that it would have to remove a new feature called Telemoji, which Durov described as “higher quality vector-animated versions of the standard emoji.” He included a preview of what they would look like in his post — they’re similar to the basic emoji set Apple uses, but with some pretty delightful animations that certainly could help make messaging a little more expressive. 

“This is a puzzling move on Apple’s behalf, because Telemoji would have brought an entire new dimension to its static low-resolution emoji and would have significantly enriched their ecosystem,” Durov wrote in his post. It’s not entirely clear how this feature would enrich Apple’s overall ecosystem, but it still seems like quite the puzzling thing for Apple to get caught up over, especially since Telegram already has a host of emoji and sticker options that go far beyond the default set found in iOS. Indeed, Durov noted that there are more than 10 new emoji packs in the latest Telegram update, and said the company will take the time to make Telemoji “even more unique and recognizable.”

There are still a lot of emoji-related improvements in the latest Telegram update, though. The company says it is launching an “open emoji platform” where anyone can upload their own set of emoji that people who pay for Telegram’s premium service can use. If you’re not a premium user, you’ll still be able to see the customized emoji and test using them in “saved messages” like reminders and notes in the app. The custom emoji can be interactive as well — if you tap on them, you’ll get a full-screen animated reaction. 

To make it easier to access all this, the sticker, GIF and emoji panel has been redesigned, with tabs for each of those reaction categories. This makes the iOS keyboard match up with the Android app as well as the web version of Telegram. There are also new privacy settings that let you control who can send you video and voice messages: everyone, contacts or no one. Telegram notes that, like its other privacy settings, you can set “exceptions” so that specific groups or people can “always” or “never” send you voice or video messages. The new update — sans Telemoji — is available now.

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