The new rebranding of sections of Facebook and the focus to create a ‘metaverse’ has a lot of people talking and not all of it is enthusiastic. Why should it be enthusiastic when Facebook has proven time and again that they cannot and should not be trusted. Also, come on, we’ve all seen The Matrix.

I know that referencing The Matrix isn’t entirely applicable to this situation. It’s not like Zuckerberg wants to turn us into human batteries, right? Right? In all seriousness, Facebook’s plan to create a virtual universe is definitely scarier than it is ambitious because how can we possibly trust this, or really, any large multinational company with our own reality?  

Let’s explain what’s going. The Facebook company is changing its name to ‘Meta’. The social media app will retain its name. But the name change isn’t that important. What is important, is the company’s new goals.

Meta wants to focus on bringing the ‘metaverse’ to life. What is the metaverse? It’s essentially a virtual world that you can plug yourself into to do whatever it is you might need to do, which, in theory, could be anything. Ever read Ready Player One?

Zuckerberg himself said that the metaverse would be a place to interact with people, work, and create.

Because why do those things in reality.

There’s a fable Jean Baudrillard used in his philosophical treatise Simulacra and Simulation (a text used as philosophical inspiration for The Matrix films). The fable tells the story of a giant Empire that created a map that was so large and detailed that it was as large as the Empire itself. The actual map would be expanded and destroyed as the Empire took and lost territory. When the Empire no longer existed, all that was left was the map. Baudrillard claims that it is actually the map that people live in. The map is a simulation of reality that everyone wants to ensure they are accurately represented on, all while reality itself crumbles away from disuse as all our focus goes to the map.

This will feel like a very familiar story to you if you’re a fan of science fiction. It’s a cautionary tale and it’s one that some, like Zuckerberg, are not heeding.  

Our world right now is suffering through issues that have been recently confirmed to have been exacerbated by platforms like Facebook. Whistle-blower, Frances Haugen, leaked plenty of documents detailing how Facebook often fails to self-regulate and take responsibility for what their platform has caused.

For example, during the 2020 U.S. presidential election, internal documents confirmed that employees raised concerns about misinformation and inflammatory content on their platform, whilst higher-ups did nothing. Posts alleging any election fraud were categorised by the company to be ‘harmful’ but ‘non-violating’ content. Conspiracy theories and anti-vax theories come under this heading too. Facebook doing nothing could be construed as a contributing factor to the resulting Capitol Riots.

This is a company that you would allow to dictate your new virtual reality?

The world has real existential concerns that cannot be ignored, like climate change. Should we bury our heads in the virtual sand and ignore what is happening to the world? While the climate rages against us, we will be fine in our virtual world, the only one that matters. The Empire might not exist but at least the map does.

This is why the metaverse is scary. Facebook, or any large multinational company, should not be trusted with our reality. We have already given them too much already and we are bearing the consequences. Our privacy, especially online, is all but gone. It left and we hardly noticed because it’s not like these companies told us it was happening. Why would they?  

We cannot allow ourselves to become lost in a virtual world while ignoring the real one and we definitely cannot allow that reality to be dictated by a company. A company’s interests do not align with the interests of you or I.

But what do you think? Does virtual reality scare or excite you? Do you trust Facebook to do this right?