You Do Not Want Facebook’s Metaverse

The company’s deference to profit over user safety undermines its latest rebranding effort.

A. Khaled

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Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg at Facebook’s Developer Conference on April 30, 2019. Courtesy of Flickr by Anthony Quintano. Licensed under CC BY 2.0.

Having witnessed Mark Zuckerberg making a fool of himself at Georgetown University a few years ago, Facebook’s announcement of a name change to “Meta” carried with it the same unwitting pomposity. The company thinks of itself as a pioneer in the metaverse conversation, but what it created had merely been adapted from previous fixtures like it — Second Life and VRChat to mention a few — while ignoring the elements that made prior metaverse-adjacent experiences truly compelling–it’s in a way a fitting metaphor for all that Meta does: take the spirit of something exciting and fresh and rip out all that gives it character and keeps it distinct.

The cornerstone of Zuckerberg’s vision for the future of the company — as hinted by through the name change — is its Oculus platform. Meta had spent years fostering relationships with software developers to make sure the support is substantial for its VR hardware, and it paid off–however there’s great reason for skepticism given the still-unimpressive adoption rate of VR, and it’s unclear whether Meta’s push to make the Quest headset more ubiquitous in this niche hardware space will ever bear its intended effect. The will is nonetheless there, and Zuckerberg has committed to lowering accessibility barriers both for developers and end-users all in service of making Meta more reality than fiction.

To take the conceit of Meta’s vision for the metaverse at face-value however necessitates that you believe the company would use whatever data it gathers for the betterment of the space responsibly, and not somehow have its use subverted for nefarious ends. Meta still has yet to atone for sins past, and when confronted with the specter of accountability, its response is to usually lash out in indignance and anger–it’s then disconcerting when a company of such immense power that doesn’t like to admit fault is rushing full steam ahead into uncharted territory when the potential for adverse consequences is yet to be holistically assessed.

None would be incorrect to suggest that Meta’s vision of what social interaction will look like in the future is dystopian to an unfathomable degree–you might think assuming…

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A. Khaled

Internet culture scribe with an interest in the digital economy, content creators, media and politics.