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The ethical concerns about VR technologies

An interview with Marisol Grandon , CEO of Unfold Stories and speaker at ORAMA on the 1st of April

· Interviews,VR for Good

Marisol Grandon is CEO of Unfold Stories, a British startup specializing in digital storytelling for international development and purpose led brands. Marisol spent 10 years in UK government including 8 years at Department for International Development as Head of Creative Content where she pioneered innovative content, immersive films and engaging social media campaigns on global issues.

We have met with her to talk about VR and AR ethic and what do you need to do to succeed in the VR world.

From your point of view, what are the ethical concerns of working on virtual reality projects that are telling stories of vulnerable people?

It is a huge area for research and exploration.

The medium by its nature allows a much more intimate perspective and therefore the intrusion of the viewer is far greater than other forms of photography or video. While photojournalists might rejoice at the ability to capture people discreetly, for instance with a small camera like a Theta S, there are ethical considerations of doing so when the subject may have no understanding of the content being captured.

I'd say similar principles of consent apply for photojournalists as VR journalists when capturing images of vulnerable people. For instance, if it's a child in a conflict zone should you change details or hide their identity if they have a sensitive story to tell?

By contrast, it is incredibly potent for journalists to be able to transport their audiences to scenes they are witnessing. As ever, people capturing material as journalists must weigh up ethical considerations of those who feature with whether the images are in the public interest.

Finally, people often suggest VR is the democratisation of experience whereas the internet was the democratisation of knowledge. Virtual experiences are never a substitute for reality and therefore you cannot say you've experienced war if all you've done is put on a headset and explored a battle scene or spent time with a war child. However, we must not downplay the impact of these virtual experiences on viewers. They can be positive and negative. At the moment we struggle to define them as we simply lack the language and grammar to express their impact. I personally believe immersive content has great power to build better understanding between people in different parts of the world, so I welcome the technology despite the very real ethical issues.

What do you find are some important skills to have while working with virtual reality?

Having an open mind is important. Your first attempts may not work so it's important to persevere. Only by producing something can you truly understand specific ethical or technical concerns. So I'd say being able to try and fail is an important quality. I think journalists are well placed to explore VR as they generally are curious and looking to understand the world better. This technology provides an excellent platform to connect with audiences in a powerful way.

What is VR/AR project that you would like to work on in 2017?

At Unfold we have a couple of projects in development which I'm very excited about. We are keen to use VR for impact, stretching beyond raising awareness or fundraising towards behaviour change on issues like gender based violence. Look forward to telling you more at ORAMA.

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