The Metaverse: A New Chapter in Undermining Democracy

29/10/2021 News

Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg announced that he will be re-branding the company into “Meta,” likely in a futile effort to wash away the incredible damage the company has done to the social fabric of nations around the world, the integrity of political discourse globally, and the mental well-being of individuals everywhere.

There’s more to it than that. Zuckerberg, in a bizarre video, also proclaimed the creation of what he calls “the Metaverse”.

Our founder and director Kyle Taylor wrote on Friday that despite the “damning revelations about the social media platform in the last week”, “Mark Zuckerberg’s reaction has been to go full Orwellian and pretend as if none of it happened.”

Read Kyle’s full Byline Times piece for a play-by-play breakdown of Facebook’s scandals and Zuckerberg’s absurd hubris. Here is what he had to say about the Metaverse:

“On Thursday, [Mark Zuckerberg] released a video announcement that the company would be renamed Meta, declaring that it has a “new North Star” of building the metaverse – a virtual reality world in which Facebook is likely not destabilising governments, facilitating genocides and undermining global health efforts. A virtual reality in which Facebook isn’t terrible. Too late Mark, game over.”

Essentially the Metaverse is still Facebook, but in a virtual reality setting – complete with avatars, virtual homes, and more. Despite its potential surface-level appeal, experts are already raising concerns that this becoming a reality might actually increase the dangers Facebook poses to democracy: more detachment from real life, and more potential to create thought bubbles that spread hate and misinformation.

Areeq Chowdhury, Senior Policy Advisor for the Royal Society, listed some of these concerns in a twitter thread this morning:

In the Metaverse, anonymous avatars will show up to virtual rallies and be digitally violent towards politicians.”

“In the Metaverse, influencers and overt racists will select dark skin tones for their avatars.”

“In the Metaverse, extremists will livestream acts of violence on big screens in Metacinemas.”

In all likelihood, we can’t even begin to imagine what kind of changes the Metaverse will bring to the platform’s already incredibly problematic business model and operational standards.

All of this of course comes at an incredibly pertinent moment for Facebook’s reputation.

Whistleblower Frances Haugen gave testimony to UK Parliament on Monday, echoing what she said to US Parliament several weeks before and what Sophie Zhang mentioned last week:

Facebook is a slave to “meaningful social interactions”, lingo for shares, likes and comments. It doesn’t matter what content is being shared, and we know for a fact that inflammatory content gets more attention.

She also urged UK lawmakers to include ads in the scope of the upcoming Online Safety Bill, arguing that it would be a “grave danger to society and democracies around the world to omit societal harm”.

As we work to reform the bill into something that could actually stand a chance at tackling these mounting digital perils, we are grateful for her testimony and that of Sophie Zhang.

Ignore the flash and glamour of the Metaverse – somehow, Zuckerberg thinks he can absolve himself and his company by throwing some VR tech into the mix and putting on an ostentatious, tone-deaf presentation. At its worse, the metaverse represents a whole new unfortunate chapter in the story of social media’s undermining of civilised discourse and informed democratic participation.

Don’t forget what Facebook is, or who Zuckerberg is. Effective legislation, hopefully in the form of the Online Safety Bill, is the key to curtailing the damage this company has done and is continuing to do. Join the fight to create a fairer and less toxic digital space, one that values human well-being over profits.