“Facebook’s metaverse is a danger to our democracies”

Posted on October 19, 2021

The metaverse, this term that comes from science fiction, which focuses on a virtual world through an augmented reality helmet, is formed. Facebook recently announced the creation of 10,000 jobs in Europe to launch this Internet tomorrow. For the anthropologist Fanny Parise, specialist in the evolution of lifestyles at the University of Lausanne, if this new world is prevented by GAFAM, the risks for our democracies are great. The reduction of freedoms, control of our personal data… how far will we go to escape reality?

Facebook recently announced the creation of 10,000 jobs in Europe to build the Internet of the future, the “metaverse”. Concretely, what is it?

The metaverse is a virtual universe that allows you to create a new world, it is an extension of physical life, in real life. This can be interpreted in different ways in a fictional utopian universe of video games for example or it can transform our current societies. This is what the metaverse created by Facebook is headed for. With a virtual reality headset, we can go to a concert, work, shop… it’s a hybrid world between our physical life and our digital life. In fact, it is the continuous digitization of our lifestyles, which accelerates during the confinements. In particular, we see the rapper Travis Scott giving a Fortnite concert or the World Health Organization advising to play Animal Crossing to stay at a distance while maintaining social relations.

Isn’t loneliness still dangerous?

Very paradoxical. From an anthropological point of view, this is not the end of the social bond. The metaverse makes it possible to reduce the distance between the individual and the places. We can go to Bali on the beach in the morning and visit Paris in the afternoon. It’s not good or bad, it’s a parallel evolution of our lifestyles with an increasingly blurred boundary between physical and digital. It helps to stimulate the imagination. With industrialization, there is a loss of beliefs, a disillusionment. Today, individuals feel the loss of meaning and the metaverse can respond to it, it makes the life we ​​want to access. But it can be very beautiful like a dream.

Then, from a sociological point of view, the question arises of the future of a society whose social interactions are built far from reality. This can cause isolation, distress. If we were in a utopian universe for example, we could effectively lock ourselves in a bubble and escape reality.

How is the metaverse regulated? We see on the Roblox platform for example, almost in the metaverse, the creation of virtual villages inspired by Nazi Germany.

At the beginning of the metaverse, users can kill “for fun”, run over people, it’s a world without rules. The metaverse preempted by Facebook responds to the regulations and laws of the liberal and capitalist market. If the GAFAMs control the metaverse, and that is, they can define the rules that will be beneficial for them and consistent with their profit. There is a real risk for our democracies, for our personal data and for the reduction of our freedoms. This is the case with social networks for example. Anyone can have access to our information. However, individuals are not sensitive to this subject because it is invisible and the time of States and the law is not fast enough to control the metaverse. Unless states join the metaverse and actually regulate this world because they become part of it.

You mentioned the invisible control that GAFAM could have if they preempted the metaverse. Isn’t there also an invisible pollution we should be sensitive to?

On this subject, it is a disaster. Netflix already takes 15% of the global bandwidth. With the metaverse it becomes even more important because it is an extension of our lives. We have the impression that it is less intense because instead of moving to a concert by car for example, we attend it in the metaverse. It is a collective illusion that is now working.

This is an interview Marina Fabre, @fabre_marina

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