Mark Zuckerberg, CEO of the multinational technology conglomerate formerly known as Facebook, announced on October 28 that the company would be renamed Meta. For nearly two decades, Facebook has been the clear figurehead of the social media industry. The name itself was an icon for the very concept of virtual connection, so why change it?
Zuckerberg believes that this change serves the goal to build “an embodied internet where you’re in the experience, not just looking at it. We call this the Metaverse, and it will touch every product [Meta] builds.” To extend the concept of virtual connection to the physical body, the Metaverse intends to expand the usage of virtual reality (VR) and augmented reality (AR) technology. By allowing users to interact with virtual constructs and other people in both the Metaverse and the real world, Meta intends to create a viable, fully-fledged virtual reality. Meta’s change of name signals that it plans to lead the formation of this new, virtual universe.
Zuckerberg has made his ambitions clear, stating that if all goes well, “within the next decade, the Metaverse will reach one billion people, host hundreds of billions of dollars of digital commerce and support jobs for millions of creators and developers.” Meta also does not intend to pursue such a challenging goal on its own. Companies such as Roblox and Minecraft already have millions of users on their fully-virtual gaming platforms, which Meta plans to incorporate into the Metaverse. Even large companies such as Nike and Microsoft have expressed interest in joining the Metaverse.
Although this innovative and ambitious vision could revolutionize the way we live our lives, it has the potential to be exceptionally dangerous. Frances Haugen, former Meta employee, testified before the US Congress on October 5 to reveal Meta’s history of hiding inside reports regarding negative health effects that Instagram, a social media platform that Meta owns, has been found to have on teen girls who use. She also testified on how Facebook’s algorithm spreads polarizing information and how the mass, uncritical sharing of such information, which can be propagated on social media sites, could be a potential threat to America’s democracy. In light of such concerns, it is easy to see how the Metaverse could be weaponized. The consequences of systems such as targeted ads, misinformation campaigns, and cyberbullying would be enhanced by the Metaverse’s reach on not just virtual reality, but the real world as well.
As students and as the generation most connected with the virtual world, it is important to reflect on what changes the Metaverse may bring to our lives. In a world that is beginning to question the already tremendous influence of technology, we must wonder: is the Metaverse a step in the right direction?