PLENTY OF PITFALLS AWAIT ZUCKERBERG'S ‘METAVERSE' PLAN
AppleMagazine|November 12, 2021
When Mark Zuckerberg announced ambitious plans to build the “metaverse” — a virtual reality construct intended to supplant the internet, merge virtual life with real life and create endless new playgrounds for everyone — he promised that “you’re going to able to do almost anything you can imagine.”

That might not be such a great idea.

Zuckerberg, CEO of the company formerly known as Facebook, even renamed it Meta to underscore the significance of the effort. During his late October presentation, he effused about going to virtual concerts with your friends, fencing with holograms of Olympic athletes and — best of all — joining mixed-reality business meetings where some participants are physically present while others beam in from the metaverse as cartoony avatars.

But it’s just as easy to imagine dystopian downsides. Suppose the metaverse also enables a vastly larger, yet more personal version of the harassment and hate that Facebook has been slow to deal with on today’s internet? Or ends up with the same big tech companies that have tried to control the current internet serving as gatekeepers to its virtual-reality edition? Or evolves into a vast collection of virtual gated communities where every visitor is constantly monitored, analyzed and barraged with advertisements? Or foregoes any attempt to curtail user freedom, allowing scammers, human traffickers and cybergangs to commit crimes with impunity?

Picture an online troll campaign — but one in which the barrage of nasty words you might see on social media is instead a group of angry avatars yelling at you, with your only escape being to switch off the machine, said Amie Stepanovich, executive director of Silicon Flatirons at the University of Colorado.

“We approach that differently — having somebody scream at us than having somebody type at us,” she said. “There is a potential for that harm to be really ramped up.”

That’s one reason Meta might not be the best institution to lead us into the metaverse, said Philip Rosedale, founder of the virtual escape Second Life, which was an internet craze 15 years ago and still attracts hundreds of thousands of online inhabitants.

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