Bringhurst: Facebook’s ‘Metaverse’ Poses a Threat to Reality 


By Maggie Bringhurst, Opinion Writer


As a young person living in an era of rapid technological advancement, I’m always astounded by society’s progress. Screenless displays and self-driving cars no longer exist solely in science fiction. In December, NASA expects to launch its largest telescope into space to uncover history from the Big Bang and beyond.

While we live in a fascinating time, I sometimes find myself rattling on about technology like my grandpa, chastising the overconsumption of social media and its effects on our brains. My boyfriend accused me of resisting change when I complained about the doom Mark Zuckerburg’s “metaverse” poses to society.

But hesitance to technological innovation protects us from potential danger. The metaverse will exacerbate the negative impacts of Instagram and Facebook. To prevent this, we must exercise caution when engaging in and regulating new technology.

Social Media’s Influence on Our Generation

Many students at the University of Utah grew up regularly using social media. We are familiar with, and perhaps numb to, the negative effects investing time and energy into these digital platforms has on our mental health.

Social media is addicting, and it can decrease social interaction. In an interview with Inês Vieria, a student at the U, she said, “The more that we use, the less that we talk with other people.”

Despite social media’s intention to connect people and increase interaction, many people today report feeling lonelier. Another student, Gianna Kneepkens, agreed. “It’s easier to text someone than to go to them in person and confront them,” she said in an interview. “People would rather be in their room on their phone than go and hang out with their friends.”

Our society recognizes the consequences of social media, and yet we haven’t established solutions. If the metaverse is created, the same consequences will apply on a larger scale in the augmented reality world.

The Metaverse for Future Generations

According to a 2020 study by the Pew Research Center, 71% of parents with children under age 12 are at least somewhat concerned their child might spend too much time in front of screens.

Facebook, or “Meta,” treats children as a crucial audience and actively markets its products towards them. “Why do we care about tweens? They are a valuable but untapped audience,” said an internal Facebook document from 2020. The company’s mindset likely won’t change in the metaverse.

The metaverse will only multiply harmful consequences of social media, particularly for the next generation. Zuckerberg worked with Carnegie Mellon to create an artificial intelligence touch sensor, a thin skin that will allow people to physically interact with objects within the metaverse.

Children growing up with access to augmented reality will find it difficult to differentiate between real life and virtual life. If you can interact with, touch and see virtual avatars as if in person, that makes it real. Experts expressed concern about how this could impact children’s psychological development. Children’s brains may be “irreversibly altered toward the entitled, incurious, and passive,” said Dr. Michael Rich of the Center on Media and Child Health at Boston Children’s Hospital.

People often emphasize the difference between social media and reality. To improve self-esteem damaged by social media’s unreal expectations, you have to unplug. This directly conflicts with the idea of the metaverse, since it can become a second reality. Still, targeted advertisements and algorithms will determine the metaverse the same way it currently determines our social media feeds — especially if we don’t immediately instigate regulations.

Limiting Meta’s Power

Society can’t grow and progress without change. But some change is bad, particularly when it grants power to figures who will inevitably take advantage of it.

Civilization has undergone both bad and good changes since the implementation of cell phones and the internet. Still, we can’t definitively say if the internet has done more harm than good.

Facebook’s role in creating the metaverse immediately raises red flags. But if Facebook didn’t help create it, some other big tech company would. And the misuse of power would pose the same threat.

The government still hasn’t found the best way to regulate technology. Proposed anti-trust laws intended to break up conglomerates wouldn’t target the bigger danger to technology, harmful algorithms.

Our government must provide meaningful legislation to limit big tech’s ability to harvest data and implement harmful algorithms. Until then, we can only assume that the same harmful practices will be implemented on a larger scale through the metaverse. It is reckless to allow the metaverse to proceed without thorough checks and balances. We cannot support technology that transforms the way we interact with each other when there’s still so much uncertainty about how to proceed safely.

Proceeding with Caution

Even as a critic of social augmented reality, I can’t say with certainty that I won’t participate in it. The metaverse will present itself in many ways through many different tech companies. And as technology grows, society must keep up.

However, I want to feel confident that my potential participation in augmented reality wouldn’t contribute to a harmful system. At this point in time, no one can confidently say that. Change comes from society as a whole. As long as consumers buy into flashy new technology, it will continue to sell — despite potential harmful consequences.


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