Meta shared his vision and future plans for his metaverse. This raised many concerns about a possible digital dystopia.
Meta was first announced during Connect 2021, Facebook’s annual developer conference which discusses all things virtual reality. CEO and Facebook creator Mark Zuckerberg revealed the company’s plans to rebrand the social media behemoth and start shifting its focus towards technology developments in the metaverse. What these developments would be were left vague for the most part, though Zuckerberg mentioned his desire to allow users to be able to engage more directly with the internet, rather than just viewing it on the screen.
‘Meta builds technologies that help people connect, find communities, and grow businesses. When Facebook launched in 2004, it changed the way people connect. Apps like Messenger, Instagram, and WhatsApp further empowered billions around the world. Now, Meta is moving beyond 2D screens toward immersive experiences like augmented and virtual reality to help build the next evolution in social technology.’Meta’s statement following their rebranding announcement
In a film created in conjunction with Meta’s announcement, Zuckerberg highlighted his plans for what he called a ‘more connected world’. The video shared a lot of similarities with what a vast majority of metaverse enthusiasts envision for the future of Web3: An AR/VR centric universe hosted entirely online complete with avatars, virtual worlds, and a completely immersive reality.
Meta’s plan for the metaverse was broken down in another letter that was released around the same time as the core announcement. At the time, their plans were broken down into a few core projects including developments in gaming, fitness, and what they called the ‘future of work’ which incorporated new technologies for businesses to further enable work from home.
Despite its attempt at rebranding and efforts to shape the metaverse, Meta has been struggling. The Web2 giant lost 26% of its market value, more than $250 billion, in February of 2022. The reason? Facebook’s aging user base. With the rise of Gen Z and growing popularity of sites like TikTok, for the first time Meta is struggling to maintain users.
A Pew Research Survey of 12-17-year-olds discovered that while 94% of teens had facebook accounts back in 2012, now only 27% of teens have Facebook accounts in the US. While Zuckerberg has made it a priority for his platform to start targeting younger users, a vast majority of Gen Z teens have declared Facebook a ‘boomer social network’ and greatly prefer its competitors Twitter and TikTok.
Being seen as an archaic social media platform is not the only hurdle that Meta has to overcome. The company recently reached a $37.5 million settlement in a location tracking lawsuit that further damaged the website’s reputation. With users already starting to distrust the giant, the knowledge that the app was illegally tracking users did little to help the company’s reputation..
In addition to the lawsuit and losing a significant chunk of its user base, Apple has recently updated its privacy settings which has made it difficult for the company to sell targeted ads. Meta explained that this change could cost them up to $10 billion in lost ad revenue.
With a general distrust of Meta, and the company’s tendency to push the boundaries of the law, there are many who have spoken out against the company being allowed to build a metaverse. This includes one of its earliest investors, Roger McNamee.
“It’s a bad idea and the fact we are all sitting and looking at this like it’s normal should be alarming to everyone.” McNamee told the BBC, “Facebook should not be allowed to create a dystopian metaverse.”
McNamee, who went from one of Facebook’s first supporters to an open critic of the platform, cited the company’s tendency to promote misinformation and divisive rhetoric. He stated clearly that he did not believe that the metaverse would be safe in the Web2 giant’s hands. “There’s no way that a regulator or policymaker should be allowing Facebook to operate there [in the metaverse] or get into cryptocurrencies,” he said. “Facebook should have lost the right to make its own choices. A regulator should be there giving pre-approval for everything they do. The amount of harm they’ve done is incalculable.“
McNamee is far from the only person who has spoken out against Meta’s attempts to pioneer in the metaverse. John Hanke, CEO of Niantic, also voiced his concerns about Zuckerberg’s vision of a more digital future. Expressing that while Sci-Fi fans like Zuckerberg might be thrilled by books like Snow Crash by Neal Stephenson, they are missing the core message of the book.
“I’m a fan of the metaverse as a work of fiction,” Hanke said. “But if you read all the way to the end—I’m not sure everyone who’s been talking about it has read to the end—you know the world in those books is this horrible place.”
Hanke suggested that Zuckerberg’s vision of the metaverse was one that would act more as a mask for a sad reality than a seamless integration of reality and technology. His hope is that instead of attempting to escape reality, technology will be created to enhance real life experiences and make the world a better place.
Despite the desire to keep the metaverse an independent and user-driven universe, there are several tech giants who have thrown their hat into the ring hoping to dominate the sector. This includes Web2 giants like Meta as well as developers like Roblox and Unity.
Maxim Manturov, head of investment advice at Freedom Finance Europe, expressed his opinions on the matter. “It is likely that ‘the tide will raise all boats’ and Facebook’s actions have allowed many companies to discover new products or sales channels,” explains Manturov. “Given that FB is a tech giant, then for smaller companies like Roblox or Unity, the metaverse creates more accelerated growth opportunities, which was momentarily reflected in the price and which is why there was such interest from investors.”
With many companies working to get a foothold in the developing sector, it remains to be seen who will step up and take leadership roles in the industry. Though it does seem that the more mainstream the metaverse becomes, the more fortune 500 companies seem interested in developing their own version of Web3.
Ultimately most would be against a dystopian future, and it’s certainly a reality many fear. As the giants of Web2 try to navigate their path into Web3, we can only hope that the original ethos behind Web3 holds true, that of trust, community, transparency and the creation of a new way for humans to interact and trade globally that has not existed before.
The Web3 way of thinking does not mesh well with Facebook’s reputation of surveillance and centralization and it seems likely that younger generations will naturally reject closed, corporately controlled metaverses in preference for decentralized, interoperable ones… Time will tell…
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