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The Facebook Metaverse: A Public Relations Campaign of Historic Proportion

For Frances Haugen, public relations played an important role. The Wall Street Journal and a consortium of media outlets obtained internal Facebook documents following a whistleblower. As a result of leaking anonymously, Haugen was portrayed as a selfless corporate dissident on 60 Minutes in October. To maximize the impact of the rollout, it was carefully timed and implemented gradually.

The Facebook leaks dominated the news in September and November, which is a testament to Haugen's campaign: they largely confirmed pre-existing suspicions and scandals about the social network. Haigen was able to show that Facebook gives priority treatment to high-profile accounts that break its rules, that Instagram is harmful to girls, that the company's products make people angry, and that the company has done little to stop violent content outside the U.S. In response, numerous former employees criticized Facebook publicly. When Facebook stopped talking about Haugen, it started talking about the Metaverse. Facebook's ordeal was called the "most devastating P.R. catastrophe yet" by media scholar Siva Vaidhyanathan.

It's the real world in Meta's Metaverse

Everybody seems to agree that the Metaverse is either overhyped fiction or the next iteration of the Internet, which you can kind of experience through a V.R. headset. After failing to change the subject, Facebook changed itself. Mark Zuckerberg envisioned the Metaverse as something out of a science fiction novel. He essentially transformed Facebook into Meta Platforms Inc., an Asimovian-sounding "metaverse company."

I am sure Zuckerberg's Metaverse will be a severe undertaking. Meta will no longer expand through acquisitions, and a financial runway will be needed to build up Oculus, the virtual reality company that Facebook acquired for $2.3 billion in 2014. Investors will take note of this change. The Metaverse Zuckerberg imagines isn't the same as he currently has. Meta mainly presented vaporware: never-before-seen software and experiences in a presentation to more than 3 billion users last October.

The Metaverse is a fascinating technology. Video conferencing, training simulations, and technical assistance could be conducted using this technology. Gaming and pornography could also be revolutionized. Are people going to spend their entire lives in the Metaverse? Would virtual reality be an excellent complement to reality? This remains a philosophical and technological question. Creating a shared persistent virtual world will require infinitely more computing power, infinitely better cloud capabilities, and infinitely better broadband access. A thin layer of the glass must conceal virtual reality and augmented-reality hardware. We will also need private companies to commit to unprecedented levels of cooperation (the Oculus Quest 2 sells for $299). Metaverse will be built by Meta, NVIDIA, Intel, and whatever else comes up. The U.S. government and government-funded research constructed the Internet and web.

The distraction of the century

It does not appear to harm the company from its current state and anticipated future. Oculus was the most downloaded app among Apple and Google's app stores, suggesting the headset was a popular gift, especially since other gaming consoles were in short supply. Meta pivot was a considerable success for Zuckerberg despite its technical prematureness. Facebook changed the way it covered the Metaverse in a compelling way for both tech and media. A Metaverse will be built, and Meta wants it created in its image, according to its tastes, and to benefit it financially. The story is too big to ignore.

Frances Haugen's leaks captivated the tech press for months, and their questions challenged contemporary debate: How can we keep people safe when using Facebook apps? What can be done to control Facebook's disproportionate role in society? Ironically, the consequences of abuse, mismanagement, perversion and sheer corporate dominance could be much worse if Facebook created the Metaverse it envisions. The Metaverse could have far more power than Facebook did. The reality checks will begin after the breathless coverage of Meta's metaverse plans ends. It is unlikely that there will be one collective Metaverse, but a drastic expansion of Facebook's size, scope, and power should give everyone pause and may yet change the subject yet again.