Virtual Insanity

Virtual Insanity

Not so long ago, the world was predicting the end for Facebook. Now it is no more. Gone from the face of the planet – never to be seen again. Except it isn’t.

Facebook has not disappeared. No, not even the damning ‘Facebook Papers’ can shut it down. Mark Zuckerberg stood up on stage, and announced that it had changed its name to: Meta.

A key part of this new vision for the company is the idea of the metaverse. If it sounds like something out of a sci-fi movie or novel, that’s because it is. The term was first coined by author Neal Stephenson in his 1992 book Snow Crash. Zuckerberg’s only problem is that novel was dystopian. Here’s a brief snippet of Stephenson’s description of the metaverse:

“Your avatar can look any way you want it to, up to the limitations of your equipment. If you’re ugly, you can make your avatar beautiful. If you’ve just gotten out of bed, your avatar can still be wearing beautiful clothes and professionally applied makeup. You can look like a gorilla or a dragon or a giant talking penis in the Metaverse. Spend five minutes walking down the Street and you will see all of these.”

In fairness, that doesn’t seem unlike the sort of content you see on Facebook today. Compare this to what Zuckerberg wrote in his 2021 Founders Letter:

“In this future, you will be able to teleport instantly as a hologram to be at the office without a commute, at a concert with friends, or in your parents’ living room to catch up. This will open up more opportunity no matter where you live. You’ll be able to spend more time on what matters to you, cut down time in traffic, and reduce your carbon footprint.”

The similarities are uncanny.

This wouldn’t be the first time that Facebook has been described as dystopian. One Mashable article called the social media giant ‘Orwellian and Huxleyan at the same time.’ Quite a feat.

The ‘Facebook Papers’ have some pretty shocking - though not entirely surprising - revelations as well. The leaked documents demonstrate the extent to which Facebook values engagement above all else (including a good experience). For instance, we learnt that the algorithm is optimised for low quality content, prioritises rage over happiness for profit, and promotes extremist content. Most alarming was that the firm failed to reduce disinformation during the pandemic even when given the opportunity. Zuckerberg said no to this, presumably because it would reduce engagement and, in turn, Facebook’s advertising revenue.

Let’s not forget all Facebook’s previous scandals. From the Cambridge Analytica kerfuffle to conducting manipulative social experiments in secret.

In light of this, the name change makes sense. It deceives you into thinking the company has evolved into a benevolent corporation, when it simply hasn’t. Zuckerberg would much prefer you to think about Meta as a playful universe where you can meet with friends across the globe in virtual reality. Where humans train themselves to sound like heavily discounted robots. Where Facebook is not a Horrid Company.

Despite all this: Meta is Facebook, just worse. It doesn’t matter about the new name, the company has not changed. It will still be violating our privacy, daily, on an unprecedented scale. It will still be as reliably scandalous as a Carry On film. It will still be terrible. Plus it will have all the added claptrap of a sub-par holographic universe attached.