Facebook says that a “fully realised” metaverse will come in the next 10 to 15 years and is investing $50 million in a global research program to develop it “responsibly”.
In a blog post written by Facebook’s VP of Reality Labs Andrew Bozworth, and its VP of Global Affairs Nick Clegg, the pair also finally defined its vision of the metaverse: a virtual space where people can “hang out with friends, work, play, learn, shop, create and more.”
Facebook claims that does not necessitate being online more but being online in a “more meaningful” way. It goes on to say that “just like the internet, the metaverse exists whether Facebook is there or not. And it won’t be built overnight”, nor will it be built by one single company.
Facebook’s $50 million (which is 0.05 per cent of its 2020 annual revenue of $85.9 billion) will be a part of this development where it will work with “civil rights groups, governments, non-profits and academic institutions to determine how to build these technologies responsibly.
The company’s relationship with non-profits and other institutions has been criticised recently, however; the groups Facebook consulted with regarding the development of its Ray-Ban smart glasses, including the LGBT Technology Partnership, the Information Technology and Innovation Formation, the National Consumers League, the National Network To End Domestic Violence, and Future of Privacy Forum, all received money from Facebook.
Facebook has a strong interest in building the metaverse. It has invested in virtual and augmented reality, most notably through its Oculus Quest headset, because “mobile phones kind of came around at the same time as Facebook, so we didn’t really get to play a big role in shaping the development of those platforms”, chief executive Mark Zuckerberg has said.
Recently, it developed “Horizon Workrooms”, which shows avatars of everyone in a meeting talking with each other, as if they were really together, in a virtual reality space.
But Facebook is not the only company interested in the metaverse; Razer’s is “preparing for the metaverse”, company chief executive Min-Liang Tan told The Independent, and the video game companies behind Fortnite, and Roblox have also expressed interest in the space as they develop games-within-games and in-universe concerts.
Critics, however, point out that the origins of the metaverse is Neal Stephenson’s 1992 Snow Crash, which paints it as “a poor, desperate nation that is literally governed by corporate franchises”, Vice’s Brian Merchant writes. “In the world of Snow Crash, the metaverse is not viewed as particularly cool—it is necessary, because the real world has become so unbearable.”
The metaverse announcement comes at a time when Facebook is under heavy criticism for the affect it has on the body image of young girls.
Instagram, which is owned by Facebook, announced yesterday that it has paused its controversial “Instagram Kids” app, which would have allowed children as young as 10 to join the platform, following a series of reports based on internal Facebook research that Instagram knew its app was making teenage girls feel worse about their bodies and that they often feel ‘addicted’.
In a blog post about the findings, Instagram said: “Social media isn’t inherently good or bad for people. Many find it helpful one day, and problematic the next. What seems to matter most is how people use social media, and their state of mind when they use it.”