Formerly believed to be a fantasy that could only exist in science fiction, the Metaverse is not only an idea far from being realised, but it is a way to the future that will dominate the world in the same way that the internet has done. The Metaverse is a futuristic real-life simulation where people from all walks of life can meet and live life in the same likeness as on earth, but with a few twists. Avatars, a central concept of the Metaverse, are a virtual representation of the user, or of the user’s alter ego or character, in the virtual world of the Metaverse, similar to a game. [1] However, since the users behind the avatars have free will, the question arises – will it be safe in the Metaverse?

The Metaverse allows avatars to interact in the same way that people in real life do, including the more nefarious interactions such as hate speech, harassment, defamation, and theft. Consequently, the Metaverse will need to be legally regulated to prevent infringements of human rights. However, while the Metaverse is undoubtedly a radical development, the law is no stranger to the need to evolve when faced with changes in society.  In fact, behaviour is already monitored in virtual spaces. In the judgment of Heroldt v Wills 2013 (2) SA 530 (GSJ), the court ordered the defendant to remove a defamatory statement post from Facebook. A tweet was declared hate speech by the High Court in South African Human Rights Commission v Khumalo 2019 (1) SA 289 (GJ). In the Netherlands, two minors were convicted of stealing virtual property, after they forced another user to transfer in-game items to them. [2] Japan has made cyber-bullying an offence, an offence that could lead to a prison sentence in real life. [3]


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