When Meta Platforms Inc. CEO Mark Zuckerberg touted the company’s plans last month to build a virtual reality "metaverse" to supplant the internet, he proclaimed that users of this platform will be able to do "almost anything" they could imagine.
Users, for instance, will be able to see concerts with their friends, buy goods and services, or attend business meetings. But many questions still linger about how the company will protect free speech and privacy rights on the platform.
Facebook has been accused of unfairly suppressing one political opinion in favor of another. Mark Grady, a professor of law and economics at UCLA, worries that those problems might become more complicated in the metaverse.
"This seems to be a more ambitious undertaking than what they're doing now," Grady told FOX Business. "It seems like this idea of the multiverse just enlarges that problem."
Amie Stephanovich, executive director of Silicon Flatirons Center for Law, Technology, and Entrepreneurship at the University of Colorado, suggested a possible scenario where a user is the victim of an online troll campaign – but instead of nasty words normally seen on social media, the user is targeted by angry avatars yelling at them and the only escape is to switch off the machine.
"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."
Kris Kolo, executive director of the VR/AR association, pointed to current metaverses, like Microsoft’s AltspaceVR and Sensorium, where bullying and hate speech are major concerns.
"Who will control them? Do we need rules? Are they going to be kicked out of the metaverse? You know, rules like that can exist in the metaverse to prevent hate speech or bullying," he said. "Just like with any technology, I think it’s a balance. Technology is here to bring us together, to connect us in different ways and the metaverse is just a new way of immersive online experience."
When it comes to enforcing the company's policies on free speech and privacy, someone will inevitably have to moderate conversations, Kurt Opsahl, deputy executive director and general counsel of the Electronic Frontier Foundation, told FOX Business.
"There are tremendous privacy issues. If you're in a metaverse and interacting with other people, everything you say and do is being captured by a device, transmitted so it reaches the other person. In the middle there is Facebook and a lot of people," Opsahl told FOX Business. "I have suspicions, founded by lots of privacy scandals in the past over whether Facebook will be a good steward of that."
The challenge, Opsahl said, will not be so much having the right policies to moderate content but in the implementation of those policies.
Opsahl said it is imperative that Meta is open and transparent about how it enforces its policies and must give people notice or allow an appeals process if their content is taken down.
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"With the ability to appeal is to recognize that sometimes, things will be taken down, that were not in violation of policies … and give people a real path to address that," Opsahl said.
Meta spokesperson Kristina Milian told FOX Business the company has only started conversations about its version of the metaverse and the technology to fully realize this vision likely won't be around for another five to 10 years.
Zuckerberg announced Facebook’s name change at Connect 2021 on Oct. 28 while elaborating on the company’s plans to dive deep into the metaverse.
"Today, we're seen as a social media company. But in our DNA, we're a company that builds technology to connect people, and the metaverse is the next frontier, just like social networking was when we got started," Zuckerberg said. "From now on, we're going to be metaverse first, not Facebook first. That means that over time, you won't need to use Facebook to use our other services as our new brand starts showing up in our products. I hope that people come to know the Meta brand and the future that we stand for."
The rebranding came as the company was dealing with a PR crisis, including scathing testimony to U.S. and U.K. lawmakers from former product manager-turned-whistleblower Frances Haugen and a series of reports from the Wall Street Journal and a media consortium of 17 U.S. news outlets, including FOX Business.
The Associated Press contributes to this report.