Mark Zuckerberg renamed Facebook “Meta” today and did a pitch which was vague but basically sounded like the overpromising of video games that we’ve all heard, at least those of us who are into video games, which I emphatically am not. Playing Pacman in a bar while drinking a few beers was about my speed back when all that got rolling.
Meta is supposed to be some utopian virtual sci fi realm where people congregate and have good clean fun, going to concerts together, playing chess, what have you. It’s all quite civilized. Quite a contrast with what’s actually going on on Facebook in the real world.
While Zuckerberg was pitching his fantasy fantastical Facebook of the future, here is what was going on on his platform at that very moment.
About 19,000 people were watching Zuckerberg cosplay as James Halliday, the fictional metaverse creator from the bleak Ready Player One series on Facebook’s Live platform. Facebook’s algorithm, meanwhile, was recommending that users also watch a Latina woman dominate and lick the stomach of a little person (11,000 viewers); it also recommended people watch a video game livestream pitched with a thumbnail of two CGI men fucking each other (4,000 viewers).
There’s nothing wrong with wanting to watch either of those things, of course. But Zuckerberg’s pitch of living, working, playing, and generally existing in a utopian, fake, Facebook-developed virtual world loaded with fun and friendly people, concerts where you can always be in the front row, seamless mixed-reality basketball games where you feel like you are actually playing basketball, and kicksass, uhh, NFTs you can use to modify your metaverse avatar, is a far cry from the disinformation, conspiracy theories, genocide-related, self-esteem destroying, spam, and general garbage content that exists on the platforms Facebook has already built.
There is no universe, meta-or-otherwise, in which people will not spread conspiracy theories, hate speech, and make threats online. In the metaverse, they will try to show each other their dicks, though it’s worth noting right now that Facebook’s current metaverse avatars do not have bodies that exist below their waists.
Zuckerberg repeatedly said Facebook alone won’t build the metaverse. But the metaverse Facebook is building will be and has been built with Facebook developers to run on Facebook servers using Facebook hardware, which are connected to Facebook accounts.
About halfway through the delusional fever dream that was Facebook’s biggest product announcement of all time, Mark Zuckerberg said that “the last few years have been humbling for me and our company in a lot of ways,” as Facebook has nominally had to grapple with the harm it’s done to this world. It’s hard to find anything “humble” about a proposal to fundamentally remake human existence using technology that currently does not and may not ever exist and that few are currently clamoring for.
But Facebook’s problems are too numerous to list, and so he is pitching products that don’t exist for a reality that does not exist in a desperate attempt to change the narrative as it exists in reality, where we all actually live.
Facebook is Zuckerberg’s monster. It left the laboratory and got out of control many years back. Since a combination of Congress and whistleblowers have been coming after Zuckerberg with torches and pitchforks, not to mention subpoenas, and demanding accountability for some time now, his answer is to flip to a new benign face for the company. Maybe he never heard of lipstick on a pig?
It all sounds very high flown and scifi-ish, the “metaverse” but it has yet to be realized beyond the drawing board and meanwhile, here we are with the exact same social media problems today as we had yesterday.
To be fair to Zuckerberg, social media, like movies, music, literature, journalism, you name it, will always reflect the entire scale of human experience, the best of us, the worst of us, and all shades of behavior in between. Zuckerberg got immensely rich from Facebook by putting his own profit margin way above any considerations of social utility or accountability until it got very late in the game. And that’s understandable, greed is a common part of human nature, one of the seven deadly sins we are told.
Meta offers no answers to any of the big questions which have been raised in the past five or more years about the pernicious effect of Facebook. It offers diversion and deflection rather than solutions.
Color me underwhelmed.