Mark Zuckerberg’s media empire is dangerous. Under a new and innocuous name – Meta – the company will pursue its ambitions to create and control a new series of lucrative digital interfaces. The Metaverse, as it shall be known, is a step towards a digital dystopia, the kind science fiction writers have conjured up for decades. And just like in science fiction, it seems the vast majority of people will neither recognise nor oppose the threat represented by the tech billionaires’ agendas, and shall instead be satisfied with more impressive graphics.
To be clear, the social media oligarchy already has too much power, and Facebook’s rebranding is not a sign of weakness. Whereas many companies rebrand themselves in the aftermath of scandals, Facebook is simply rebranding to expand. Zuckerberg realises his flagship social media service has reached a logical limit to growth, particularly among the young. Its billions in earnings from internet advertising will grow more slowly from now on. Therefore, rather than stagnate, the time has come for Zuckerberg to use his company’s extensive profits, infrastructure and technical expertise to drive the next wave of innovation.
With the help of eyewear and a fast internet connection, the Metaverse aims to integrate your personal and professional lives into an augmented/virtual reality environment. By putting on your glasses, your barely liveable apartment is suddenly filled with art, entertainment platforms, and even a stunning view from its huge number of windows. Your decaying cityscape suddenly appears habitable, and the crowded public spaces and disinvestment in amenities are no longer visible. Do you live in a crumbling megacity or a lush tropical paradise? Keep your glasses on, then you won’t find out for sure.
At first glance, the possibilities seem almost endless until you realise you are paying for everything you see, and yet you own nothing of value. The price can go up at any time, your service can be withdrawn for any reason, including your political views, and we may presume that your account can be deleted accidentally or maliciously by numerous enemies.
Another double-edged sword is the possibility of working from home via the Metaverse’s collaborative virtual reality work environment. With this, no commute is necessary. There’s no need to leave home, pay for transport, risk crime, accidents or awkward interactions with living humans. That sounds great until you realise there is no need for your bosses to employ you if they can employ someone from a different country who will do the same work cheaper, for free, or who will work longer hours. Yes, you can work from home, but you do so by placing decades of advancements in workers’ rights on the sacrificial altar in the hope that you are, for now, too valuable to replace. But you aren’t.
When Zuckerberg notes that a holographic representation of a television can be purchased in the Metaverse, and that it might only “cost a dollar from some high school kid halfway across the world,” there is no hint that he sees child labour as a negative. Neither is there any admission that only a chosen few will have the post-Minecraft technical skills to manufacture digital property, most of which will likely be owned by the platform itself. In the end, the Metaverse is a platform that threatens to reduce your life to a subscription hologram whilst making you compete in a global marketplace, where the lowest labour prices are the best prices. It’s worrying, and we haven’t even got onto the issue of free speech and communication.
Zuckerberg himself once claimed that Facebook shouldn’t be the arbiter of truth, yet this is a role it increasingly plays, with an ever-closer alignment to the Democratic Party establishment. It was Facebook who joined the mainstream news outlets in pretending Trump had to be wrong about COVID-19 originating in a Wuhan lab, and it was Facebook and legacy media (including the New York Times) who tried to buryallegations of corruption against the Biden family before the 2020 election. Today, the White House actually flags “problematic” posts for Facebook to censor on their behalf. By this method of public-private partnership, the American government circumvents all constitutional protections on free speech. This corporatised control of information is brilliantly simple, effective, inherently open to abuses, and will be used against more dissidents as the process becomes more normalised.
Notably, Facebook’s censorship machinery takes time and processing power, so some of its failures are emblematic of the company’s dangerously misplaced priorities. For instance, posts that accurately describe China’s human rights abuses have been banned on the grounds they constitute hate speech. At the same time, Facebook knew its site was being used to sell human beings, mostly women and children, yet they did nothing about it. Indeed, they only took token measures once Apple, an entirely different company with a motive to harm Facebook, threatened to remove Facebook from its app store if it didn’t try to stop the slave trade.
Thus, here we have a company that peddles in virtue signalling, helps moderate criticism of dictatorships, stifles scrutiny of elected officials, and knowingly chooses to spend time assisting the U.S. government in circumventing free speech laws whilst also ignoring actual slave markets. This company might control everything you think you own, and everything you interact with in your home and work life. This is the company that will hear everything you say, watch everything you do, and provide everything you interact with, for a fee, and without anything approaching a digital bill of rights that can restrain it.
Fortunately, they will offer me plenty of pre-approved packages for my personalised dystopia.