The Facebook metaverse
Recently, Facebook (NASDAQ:FB) has rebranded itself to be called Meta – the parent company that owns ubiquitous products such as Facebook, WhatsApp, and Instagram. As seen by many as a perplexing move, the company is evolving and expanding its reach into what is called the metaverse.
The metaverse is a neologism that encompasses the words meta and universe, something that describes a convolution of virtual reality and social media, a sort of “next chapter” for the internet. Another way to describe it would be an ecosystem that is a mix of virtual and augmented reality which seeks to improve how we socialise, work, and play.
The world has adopted and accepted virtual reality to an extent. In 2020, Zoom (NASDAQ: ZM) meetings, Clubhouse, virtual concerts, and games like Fortnite and Minecraft were just some of the ways people communicated through the pandemic. They all had one thing in common – the desire to interact with others. This fundamental human need is something that Meta (formerly Facebook) will make full use of.
In an open letter by Mark Zuckerberg, he states that “in this future, you will be able to teleport instantly as a hologram to be at the office without a commute, at a concert with friends, or in your parents’ living room to catch up”. He also says that crypto and NFTs will be supported in his view of the metaverse, which bodes well for the future of these markets and could be another positive sign for the ongoing development of their blockchain-based payment system Diem (formerly Libra).
Some criticise the timing of the announcement. Facebook made headlines recently when the whistleblower Frances Haugen leaked internal documents and testified in Congress that Facebook knew and intentionally targeted young people with content that would worsen body image issues on young girls. Increased anxiety, depression, and mental health issues in young people were well known and profits were put before long-term health, analogous to the tobacco industry. In addition, Facebook’s News Feed feature’s questionable algorithm deliberately promoted extreme political views, news, and misinformation, creating an echo chamber catered to the user. The AI system catered to detect and filter abusive posts failed to work in other languages. The moderation system was unsuccessful in preventing cases such as promoting genocide in Burma against the Rohingya and enticing violence in Ethiopia.
These controversies are built upon the 2018 Cambridge Analytica data scandal, where another whistleblower reported that Facebook users’ data were shared to a consulting firm, using it for targeted political advertising in the 2016 presidential election and Brexit. In 2019 the Federal Trade Commission ultimately fined Facebook for $5 billion, the highest penalty in privacy violation ever recorded. The Securities Exchange Commission were also involved, settling for $100 million for misleading investors about the risks the company faced from misuse of user data.
Perhaps it is not surprising Facebook is rebranding itself. Could Meta and the metaverse fundamentally change the way we think about the way we work and play in virtual spaces, or is it a dystopic version of the internet on steroids? Only time will tell, and the metaverse will continue to metamorphize.