How the metaverse can become a breeding ground for terrorists

By Joel S. Elson and Austin C. Doctor and Sam Hunter—The Conversation 5 minute Read

The metaverse is coming. Like all technological innovation, it brings new alternatives, and new dangers.

The metaverse is an immersive virtual reality version of the internet the place folks can work together with digital objects and digital representations of themselves and others, and can transfer roughly freely from one digital surroundings to a different. It can additionally contain augmented actuality, a mixing of digital and bodily realities, each by representing folks and objects from the bodily world in the digital, and conversely, by bringing the digital into folks’s perceptions of bodily areas.


By donning digital actuality headsets or augmented actuality glasses, folks will be capable to socialize, worship, and work in environments the place the boundaries between environments and between the digital and bodily are permeable. In the metaverse, folks will be capable to discover that means and have experiences in live performance with their offline lives.

Therein lies the rub. When folks be taught to like one thing, whether or not it’s digital, bodily, or a mixture, taking that factor from them can trigger emotional ache and struggling. To put a finer level on it, the issues folks maintain pricey become vulnerabilities that can be exploited by these searching for to trigger hurt. People with malicious intent are already noting that the metaverse is a potential tool of their arsenal.

As terrorism researchers at the National Counterterrorism Innovation, Technology, and Education Center in Omaha, Nebraska, we see a potential darkish aspect to the metaverse. Although it’s nonetheless beneath development, its evolution guarantees new methods for extremists to exert affect via concern, menace, and coercion. Considering our research on malevolent creativity and innovation, there’s potential for the metaverse to become a new area for terrorist exercise.

To be clear, we don’t oppose the metaverse as a idea and, certainly, are enthusiastic about its potential for human development. But we consider that the rise of the metaverse will open new vulnerabilities and current novel alternatives by which to take advantage of them. Although not exhaustive, listed below are 3 ways the metaverse will complicate efforts to thwart terrorism and violent extremism.



First, on-line recruitment and engagement are hallmarks of contemporary extremism, and the metaverse threatens to broaden this capability by making it simpler for folks to satisfy up. Today, somebody all for listening to what Oath Keepers founder Stewart Rhodes has to say may learn an article about his anti-government ideology or watch a video of him chatting with followers about impending martial regulation. Tomorrow, by mixing artificial intelligence and augmented reality in the metaverse, Rhodes or his AI stand-in will be capable to sit on a digital park bench with any variety of potential followers and entice them with visions of the future.

Similarly, a resurrected bin Laden might meet with would-be followers in a digital rose backyard or lecture corridor. The rising metaverse affords extremist leaders a new capacity to forge and keep digital ideological and social communities and highly effective, difficult-to-disrupt methods of increasing their ranks and spheres of affect.


Second, the metaverse gives new methods to coordinate, plan, and execute acts of destruction throughout a diffuse membership. An assault on the Capitol? With adequate reconnaissance and data gathering, extremist leaders might create digital environments with representations of any bodily constructing, which might enable them to stroll members via routes resulting in key aims.

Members might be taught viable and environment friendly paths, coordinate various routes if some are blocked, and set up a number of contingency plans if surprises come up. When executing an assault in the bodily world, augmented actuality objects like digital arrows can assist information violent extremists and determine marked targets.


Violent extremists can plot from their residing rooms, basements, or backyards—all whereas constructing social connections and belief of their friends, and all whereas showing to others in the digital avatar form of their choosing. When extremist leaders give orders for motion in the bodily world, these teams are prone to be extra ready than immediately’s extremist teams due to their time in the metaverse.

New targets

Finally, with new virtual- and mixed-reality areas comes the potential for new targets. Just as buildings, occasions, and other people can be harmed in the actual world, so too can the similar be attacked in the digital world. Imagine swastikas on synagogues, disruptions of real-life actions like banking, procuring, and work, and the spoiling of public occasions.

A 9/11 memorial service created and hosted in the digital area could be, for instance, a tempting goal for violent extremists who might reenact the falling of the twin towers. A metaverse wedding may very well be disrupted by attackers who disapprove of the spiritual or gendered pairing of the couple. These acts would take a psychological toll and will lead to real-world hurt.

It could also be straightforward to dismiss the threats of this blended digital and bodily world by claiming it isn’t actual, and is subsequently inconsequential. But as Nike prepares to sell digital footwear, it’s crucial to acknowledge the very real money that can be spent in the metaverse. With precise cash comes real jobs, and with actual jobs come the potential for shedding very actual livelihoods.

Destroying an augmented- or virtual-reality enterprise means a person suffers real monetary loss. Like bodily locations, digital areas can be designed and crafted with care, subsequently carrying the significance folks attribute to issues they’ve invested time and creativity constructing. Further, as know-how turns into smaller and more integrated in folks’s each day lives, the capacity to easily flip off the metaverse and ignore the hurt might become more difficult.

Preparing for the new (digital) actuality

How then to face these rising threats and vulnerabilities? It is affordable for companies to recommend that hate or violence won’t be allowed or that people participating in extremism can be recognized and banned from their digital areas. We are supportive of such commitments however are skeptical that these are credible, particularly in mild of revelations about Meta’s dangerous behavior on its Facebook, Instagram, and WhatsApp platforms. There is profit available in hate and division.

If companies can not function dependable sole guardians of the metaverse, then who can, and the way?

Although the arrival of a full-fledged metaverse remains to be some years in the future, the potential threats posed by the metaverse require consideration immediately from a numerous vary of individuals and organizations, together with tutorial researchers, these creating the metaverse, and people tasked with defending society. The threats name for considering as a lot, or extra creatively, about the metaverse as these with malevolent intent are prone to do. Everyone must be prepared for this new actuality.

Joel S. Elson is an assistant professor of IT innovation at the University of Nebraska Omaha, Austin C. Doctor is an assistant professor of political science at the University of Nebraska Omaha, and Sam Hunter is a professor of Psychology at the University of Nebraska Omaha.

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