Two Democratic senators urged Meta this week to suspend a reported plan to offer Horizon Worlds, the company’s flagship virtual reality app, to teens between the ages of 13 and 17, arguing the technology could harm young users’ physical and mental health.
The lawmakers, Massachusetts Sen. Ed Markey and Connecticut Sen. Richard Blumenthal, called Meta’s plan “unacceptable” in light of the company’s “record of failure to protect children and teens,” in a letter dated Wednesday to company CEO Mark Zuckerberg.
The letter focuses on a plan, reported by the Wall Street Journal last month, that would enable Meta’s teen users to join a persistent online world consisting of multiple digital communities through the use of a virtual reality headset. Horizon Worlds is already available to adults 18 and older.
Citing concerns raised by previous research about Meta’s impact on teen mental health, Markey and Blumenthal said there is scant research about the psychological and physical effects of using the metaverse — Meta’s preferred name for the underlying virtual reality technology — and what little there is is troubling, they argued.
“Your plans to imminently pull these young people into an under-researched, potentially dangerous virtual realm with consequences for their physical and mental health is unacceptable,” they wrote, adding: “Any strategy to invite young users into a digital space rife with potential harms should not be driven by a goal to maximize profit.”
A Meta spokesperson didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment.
The calls for caution come as social media platforms have faced years of scrutiny over their impact on young users, including their potential to lead teens down harmful rabbit holes.
TikTok announced Wednesday that every user under 18 will soon have their accounts default to a one-hour daily screen time limit, in one of the most aggressive moves yet by a social media company to prevent teens from endlessly scrolling.
Other platforms, including Instagram and Snapchat, have similarly rolled out additional parental controls and features that encourage teens to take a break and set boundaries.