When the Dark Web meets the Metaverse
What will you be able to do in the Metaverse that you can’t do in real life? Not much, according to metaverse promoters. And as can be expected these days, there are plenty of people who would like to push the boundaries.
Given the perceived anonymity of the metaverse, it’s understandable that some people are eager to check their inhibitions at the door and engage with others and their surroundings in ways they wouldn’t in the physical universe. It’s not necessarily a bad thing when introverts feel comfortable enough in this alternate reality to open up another side of themselves, for example to be brave, assertive, sensitive, or heroic in ways that they can’t seem to manage in real life.
But, of course, lines can be crossed quite easily, and so far with few repercussions. Some inhibitions, either legally based, morality-grounded, or socially enforced are a good thing, and these checks are currently lacking in the metaverse.
And as the metaverse becomes more and more realistic, so will the trauma that participants experience from the sexual harassment, bullying, stalking, hate speech, exploitation, and assaults they are exposed to there.
The Wild West
We’re hearing more reports of bad behavior in the metaverse, people treating it as a lawless Wild West with no sheriff around to establish law and order.
And like the Wild West, crimes won’t always be the person-on-person, behavioral kind, but financial as well.
We should all remember that cryptocurrencies came of age as a means of payment for illicit activity in the Dark Web before becoming legitimate and mainstream. Similarly, cybercriminals themselves will increasingly emerge from the anonymity of the Dark Web and into the anonymity of the virtual meta-town to rob a (crypto) bank and otherwise swindle and con law-abiding citizens.
And what did citizens of Wild West towns resort to if there was no sheriff in town 150 years ago? Vigilantism, if they were able to get the upper hand. Not an ideal situation either then or now in the virtual world.
Utopia Meets Reality and Human Nature
While utopian thinkers like to promote the metaverse as an Eden-like experience and a place to get away from the problems of the real world, it’s more appropriate to go into this experience with your eyes wide open.
Human nature is human nature, and as such it’s imperfect in the best of us and downright evil in the worst of us. We shouldn’t be surprised to realize that as more and more participants journey within this cyberspace, it will evolve to match the real world. That means we’ll need to install the same kinds of limits for avatars that keep human beings in check – including the criminals, perverts, and vigilantes.
Naturally, the metaverse will begin to develop a series of parallel institutions for law enforcement along with the necessary legal/penal system. And the societal “we” will have to be convinced to embrace societal norms, perhaps as touted by thought leaders or metaverse religious leaders.
Metaverse Laws and Law Enforcement
The metaverse legal system will mirror the real-world legal system.
The Metaverse Code of Conduct
The first step in designing the necessary metaverse criminal justice system brings us back to our futurist topic from last week. We eventually will have a blockchain-enabled repository of laws and regulations for personal and commercial conduct in this virtual space. It will mirror in many ways the structure and content of laws in the real world since much of the real world is replicated in the metaverse.
Some aspects of the real world’s code could be discarded in the metaverse code. Others would have to be added. The idealized rules we identified last week for maintaining this code (sunsetting laws, making them readable at an 8th-grade level, etc.) would apply here too. Who would write the codes? Elected metaverse officials perhaps aided by metaverse citizen voting on the most critical matters.
Metaverse Law Enforcement
When it comes to cybercrimes related to NFTs and financial fraud, currently established real-world law enforcement agencies currently are adding new resources and skillsets to patrol this area of the virtual space. So far so good. This will shift, though, to sanctioned metaverse officers patrolling this space. They’ll be working their metaverse beats day and night, aided by artificial intelligence that helps ferret out anomalous behavior that requires further investigation.
Here we need to make a distinction between metaverse trials that are essentially virtual trials of cases from the real world and metaverse trials held in the comprehensive metaverse for crimes committed in cyberspace. The former is an extension of the remote elements of recent trials during the pandemic.
The latter, though, will be an extension of, ironically, one of the first criminal courts in the Dark Web. This court was actually designed by cybercriminals to adjudicate cyber cases between cybercriminals. While not a metaverse activity per se, this kind of small-claims adjudication system brought complaints between criminals to an impartial judge who would deliver a ruling and establish fines or compensation.
This approach could serve as the basis of addressing certain types of civil matters in the metaverse – an NFT ownership case, for example, between two relatively well-intentioned parties.
But criminals, stalkers, thieves, and assailants would not be likely to agree to this kind of arbitration. Thus, we’ll have elected avatar judges and randomly selected juries of avatar peers to address avatar criminal behavior.
Lockups in the Metaverse
Punishing the guilty bad actors in the metaverse could be the trickiest element of the future metaverse legal system. Sure, we can detect and delete an avatar and even try to identify the person behind it. But our goal will have to be to sanction that person behind the avatar in hopes that their future avatars behave better.
I don’t see a way to prevent that person, though, from placing new avatars in the metaverse, using new usernames, credentials, networks, and hardware. And until we figure this out, we’ll likely resort to a whack-a-mole approach to punishing bad avatar-actors, deleting them as fast as they emerge.
Meet the New ‘’Verse, Same as the Old Verse’
Good conduct. Rules. Consequences. Structure. Punishment. Yes, this all makes the metaverse sound a bit boring and maybe, for some, too much like the real universe from which they’re trying to escape. But if we don’t have this kind of empowered metaverse law enforcement and judicial system, the good citizens will get out of metaverse Dodge and leave it to the marauders and horse thieves!