Meta announced today that it is opening Horizon Worlds to teen users in the US and Canada, after previously restricting the social VR platform to users 18 and over. As part of the expansion, the company says it is introducing a range of age-appropriate protections and safety standards.
The move comes after lawmakers and children’s rights activists urged Meta to abandon its plans to open up the platform to young users.
Today’s announcement comes as no surprise, as a leaked memo in February revealed that Meta planned to open up access to Horizon Worlds to users ages 13 to 17. At the time, Senators Richard Blumenthal (D-CT) and Ed Markey (D-MA) wrote a letter to Meta CEO Mark Zuckerberg urging him to drop the plans, arguing it would be a bad idea to give teens access to “digital space filled with potential harm”.
Meta says it has invested in new safety features, including back-end protections and parental controls tools that will help parents and teens manage the experience before Worlds is made available to this age group. The company says it’s slowly rolling out Horizon Worlds to teens so it can carefully research usage before expanding more widely.
Teens can choose who to follow and who can follow them back, and their profiles are automatically set to private, meaning they can approve or reject anyone who asks to follow them. By default, Meta also doesn’t show a teen’s active status and their Horizon Worlds location to other people, but these settings can be changed, as teens can choose whether their connections can see if they’re active online and what public world or event they’re on inside.
“We use content ratings to ensure teens have an age-appropriate experience within Worlds,” Meta wrote in a blog post. “For example, adult world and event ratings prevent teens from finding, seeing, or entering spaces with adult content. Our policy prohibits teens from publishing adult worlds or events. Worlds that violate this policy will be removed.”
Meta will also convert the voices of people unknown to a teen into distorted sounds. The teen’s voice will also be garbled so people they don’t know won’t be able to hear them.
In addition, Meta says it will limit interaction between teens and adults by not displaying adults a teen doesn’t know in their “people you may know” list.
Parents can set up Worlds parental controls by inviting their teen to connect through Meta’s Family Center offering. Once set up, parents can see, adjust and lock safety features. Parents can also see who follows their teen and who follows their teen. The controls allow parents to see how much time teens have spent in Worlds and also prevent their teens from using Worlds.
In the days leading up to the announcement, many children’s rights activists had asked Meta to abandon its plans to lure young teens to the social VR platform, fearing it would expose them to sexually explicit and homophobic content.
Meta has had both issues protecting users while using the platform. After the initial rollout, some users reported being groped and sexually harassed in Horizon Worlds. To address this, Meta later rolled out a “personal boundary” feature. Much of the platform can feel like it’s free for everyone, as it can be difficult to moderate voice-based interactions at scale.
It is worth noting that although Horizon Worlds technically was restricted to adults prior to this expansion, many people reported that the platform was flooded with young users who could easily get around the age limit for the platform.