Op-Ed | Challenges of Content Governance in the Metaverse

Current content governance systems are far from perfect. Yet, extraordinary situations such as the Covid 19 pandemic, or the War in Ukraine have highlighted the need to anticipate challenges ahead. The pace of emergence of new technologies has often outdistanced the emergence of regulation, leaving the responsibility to the technology industry to design interoperable, transparent, inclusive and accountable content governance system. In a new publication titled “Content Governance Challenges in the Metaverse: A Primer”, the Content Policy & Society Lab explores the specific governance issues raised by content in immersive social media, and proposes policy recommendations to build a robust content governance system, deeply grounded in democratic and rule of law principles.

Metaverses have the potential to become our future social media universes. While inspiring various definitions, experts  agree that the “Metaverse” comes from the combination of the Greek “Meta” (beyond) and “Universe”. The concept purports to project real or imaginary worlds in the digital space, recreating them from scratch. Open, distributed, persistent, and transnational, these Metaverses are often described as the "future of the Internet". Many are engaging in the technological development of these spaces, few however, are tackling the heavy task of its content governance. 

Yet, challenges are numerous and can sometimes be specific to the immersive aspect of Metaverses. From the collection of biometric and behavioral data, to the feeling of self-projection created by immersive reality, the blurred boundary between video games and social networks, or the establishment of rights for intellectual property, all these questions take on a new dimension in an immersive, persistent space, which ambitions to mirror the real world. 

How do we preserve human rights, public order and online safety? 

We must ensure now that Metaverses are, by design, respectful of users' privacy and online safety. In less than 40 years, we went from the birth of the Internet to the possibility of 3D immersion accessible to the general public ; changes brought by Metaverses may come sooner than we think, and with them new content related challenges. 

Content Governance in the Metaverse would need to gather companies, governments experts, civil society, early adopters, moderators, and more, to anticipate safety challenges and be prepared to act. An inclusive, transparent, interoperable and accountable content governance system would guarantee the legitimacy of Metaverse rules. These rules should be pre-established and based on rule of law principles and values.

Ultimately, the challenges of content governance in the Metaverse put the imperfections of current content governance frameworks under spotlight. The Metaverse brings along new technical and regulatory challenges, but it also provides an opportunity to learn lessons and apply better solutions to content governance issues, allowing us to take the full advantage of technological innovations and enjoy safe, secure, and trustworthy virtual spaces.  

Julie Owono

Executive Director of the Content Policy & Society Lab