What marketers should consider when it comes to metaverse brand safety

As brands seek to stake a claim in the metaverse, marketers must know the risks and lingering issues associated with the emerging space. Issues of safety and inclusivity cannot be overlooked.

To help marketers and developers better understand the risks associated with the metaverse, Tiffany Xingyu Wang helped to establish the Oasis Consortium, a nonprofit that seeks to advance digital sustainability through ethical standards and technology in the metaverse. Boosted by a career in developing trustworthy artificial intelligence, Wang sees brand safety standards like those from the Oasis Consortium as a necessary step toward a fully realized metaverse.

The group released safety guidelines for the metaverse on Jan. 6, 2022, dubbed the Oasis User Safety Standards and designed to set safety guardrails for the next iteration of the web through a framework of five P’s: priority, people, product, process and partnership, according to Wang.

“January 6 this year was a date [that] is very meaningful, because one thing I deeply believe is the capitol insurrection last year [was] partially a result of that we didn’t put any safety guardrails 15 years ago,” she said.

In an interview with Marketing Dive, Wang discussed safety considerations brands must be aware of before investing in the metaverse.

This interview has been edited for clarity and brevity.

MARKETING DIVE: What are some benefits early adopters of the metaverse have been seeing? What are some challenges?

TIFFANY XINGYU WANG: The first thing first is how you define metaverse. Once we define that, it’s much easier to understand why some brands decide to enter the metaverse or why certain brands want to take the lead into this whole universe.

What I often say about the metaverse is that it basically transcends the internet of today. It converts the internet of today into a 3D universe, which is more immersive and therefore more engaging and persistent. This creates more touch points for brands and more interoperability, and means more channels within the same so-called metaverse. It is a fantasized version of the universe, so anybody can be anybody.

In other words, the willingness to purchase is also potentially amplified because of the possibilities. So the four aspects — the immersiveness, the persistence, the interoperability and the fantasized version of selves enabled by this universe — can bring huge potential for any brands who want to achieve the holy grail of the amplified lifetime value of their consumers [and] gain visibility of the purchase journey. I think the metaverse definitely presents that potential for brands.

Now, we have to talk about the flip side of that, because the promise that I talked about is a promise. I think all the technology companies, all the platforms, are building what I call the basement of the metaverse. We’re building this universe from the ground up, and today we are at the basement level building the groundwork of those promises. The flip side of those attributes is potentially laying down huge risks. The past 15-20 years really led us to what I call the loss of trust in Web2, as over 40% of U.S. internet users have said to be harassed or subjected to hate speech online. There’s the safety issue, which is mainly because we didn’t have safety guardrails from the get-go in Web2. We have a data issue, the privacy issue. Every 39 seconds, there’s a data breach.

And then we have the inclusion issue. Today, facial recognition AI recognizes the wide scheme, the males 34% better than dark-skinned females in many circumstances. We’re talking about an era where we don’t have safety, privacy and inclusion. Those aspects are completely amplified in Web3. The immersiveness basically amplified exposure, because it’s immersive, you feel more, the impact is more major. Persistence really drives the velocity of toxicity because it’s persistent all the time. Fantasizing itself is really increased exposure to toxicity, and interoperability actually makes content moderation much harder.

For example, certain brands have a lot of controversies about moderating hate speech and racism online. They don’t have enough data to know how to address those. But those platforms in the metaverse, they’re completely different use cases of how you moderate toxicity. So, the flip side of this rosy future we paint for brands to go into the metaverse has this risk if we don’t address the safety issues right now, right here. We are putting the brands adjacent to potential hate speech and racism issues, which will cause problems.

Many brands seem to think user guidelines will protect them, but that’s often not the case. How do brands protect themselves from hate speech and other issues on these emerging platforms?

WANG: You need people who have worked in the space of safety for a long time to understand the impact and challenge of addressing safety. Governance has to start with these experts who have walked the walk. The Consortium is basically a safety advisory board. One way to categorize them is they are web trust and safety leaders who have been there for the past five years, who are building the new platforms and understand how to build safety by design.

You also have a group of folks who have been there for over a decade and have to adapt experience and safety. The second group, they have seen the first incarnation of the web. People who build policies for platforms like Decentraland are often isolated from the people who build the brand. But the policy is a reflection of your brand identity. Does Decentraland want to have the brand identity that tolerates Hitler? I’m pretty sure the answer is no. But then why isn’t there a policy in place to guide the users and therefore the voters to understand that, because ultimately, you have to be very clear about identity and guides your community toward that direction so they can vote for a future they truly want. I think those standards serve as a guidepost.

The example I gave you was a mistake we made in Web2. All the founders in Web2, nobody wants their platform to be a platform of hate speech. But we didn’t think to put that in the community policy or enforcement. As a result, unfortunately, some platforms today are basically associated with a brand of hate speech and racism. I think the message for us is to get those platforms to look at those standards and not make that mistake again. The metaverse opens huge potential for huge risks, but also a huge opportunity for us to make safety no longer an afterthought. I really encourage all Web3 builders to look at the standards and use them before it is too late.

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