Mark Zuckerberg promised that “you’ll be able to do practically anything you can think” when he outlined lofty ambitions to build the “metaverse,” a virtual reality construct designed to displace the internet, connect virtual life with real-life, and provide boundless new playgrounds for everyone. It is significant to emphasize the importance of the initiative; Zuckerberg, the CEO of the corporation formerly known as Facebook, renamed it Meta. Also, he gushed about going to virtual concerts with your pals, sparring with holograms of Olympic competitors, and, most of all, attending mixed-reality business meetings where some participants are physically present. In contrast, others beam in from afar during his late October presentation.
However, it’s just as easy to envision dystopian consequences. What if the metaverse also allows for a far more extensive yet more personal version of the harassment and hate that Facebook has been slow to address on the internet today? Or would the same major IT companies that have tried to dominate the present internet become the virtual-reality edition’s gatekeepers? Or does it become a massive network of virtual gated communities where every visitor is continually tracked, evaluated, and bombarded with ads? Or does it ignore any attempt to limit user freedom, allowing scammers, human traffickers, and cybergangs to operate freely?
According to Rosedale, the danger is establishing online public places that appeal primarily to a polarised, homogeneous group of individuals, who described Meta’s main VR product, Horizon, as having a bullying tone and presumptively male participation. Meta has instructed Horizon users to treat fellow avatars nicely in a safety instruction and provides tools for blocking, muting, or reporting those who do not. Still, Rosedale believes it will require more than a schoolyard monitor approach to avoid a situation where the loudest shouters are rewarded. He believes that a better goal would be to design systems that are inviting and flexible enough to allow strangers to get along as well as they would in a natural setting like New York’s Central Park.