In announcing his company’s name change to Meta, founder Mark Zuckerberg observed that Facebook is one of the most used products in the history of the world.

Positioning the company to be a leader in artificial intelligence, Zuckerberg said Meta will be “an embodied internet where you’re in the experience, not just looking at it.”  He continued in his October 28th presentation, “you’re going to do almost anything you can imagine, get together with friends and family, work, learn, play, shop, create.”

Meta—which means ‘beyond’—is some years away. But already critics like The Mac Observer editor Bryan Chaffin dismisses Zuckerberg’s metaverse as a bad idea that won’t succeed. “His vision of a virtual world where we all have our meetings with goggles on our face is little more than a joke at this point,” says Chaffin. The technology, he adds, simply isn’t there.

San Jose Mercury News technology columnist Larry Magid is reserving judgement. As a move to win competitive advantage over rivals Google and Apple, he says, the change makes sense. “If Zuckerberg is right and it remains to be seen if he is, the smart phone will continue to exist.  But also important will be these glasses, goggles and other devices.  Who makes those?  Oculus. Who owns Oculus?  Meta. Now Mark Zuckerberg gets to control his own operating system, his own hardware.”

Facebook’s power in social media has not won friends for the company or Mark Zuckerberg. Together with Google parent Alphabet the two companies account for two thirds of online advertising revenue. Facebook is the world’s 7th largest company measured by market capitalization. It employs 60,000 people, most of them outside the United States.

Long-time Facebook researcher and now whistle-blower Frances Haugen accuses the company of routinely putting profits ahead of user safety. From spurious political ads to influence elections to harmful content, Haugen says her former employer ignored warnings to change from inside the company.  In Washington Democratic and Republican lawmakers who seldom agree on anything express surprising unity in asserting that Facebook is too big and too powerful. They advocate more regulation and some want to break up the company.

Bryan Chaffin of The Mac Observer says 37-year-old Mark Zuckerberg does not have the wisdom to exercise the power he wields. “The ways in which foreign adversaries have been able to use Facebook to weaponize misinformation against western cultures….All of this is a problem stemming from Mark Zuckerberg’s belief or desire for all connections to be valuable. But clearly they’re not.”    

Meta the company has several components. There is Facebook for connecting with friends, Instagram for sharing photos, Messenger for instant messaging, WhatsApp for free audio and video communication, and Oculus headsets for gaming. Since 2009 Facebook has acquired over 70 companies worth over 20 billion dollars.

As to privacy many of Facebook’s 2.9 billion users willingly post their personal data on the site. That data is hugely important to advertisers who tailor their messages to users’ specific interests. Facebook’s algorithms are not publicly available. 

Gazing into the metaverse whistle-blower Frances Haugen worries that young people using avatars to interact in a virtual world will become addicted, “unplugged from reality.”

But for Mark Zuckerberg the metaverse is the next frontier. “It is,” he says, “in Facebook’s DNA to build technology that connects people. The metaverse, he says, “is the next frontier just like social networking was when we started.”

Is this a useful vision for the future?  Time will tell.

The views of the writer are not necessarily the views of the Daily Friend or the IRR

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Washington writer Barry D. Wood for two decades was chief economics correspondent at Voice of America News, reporting from 25 G7/8, G20 summits. He is the Washington correspondent of RTHK, Hong Kong radio. Wood's earliest reporting included covering key events in South and southern Africa, among them the Portuguese withdrawal from Mozambique and Angola and the Soweto uprising in the mid-1970s. He is the author of the book Exploring New Europe, A Bicycle Journey, based his travels – by bicycle – through 14 countries of the former Soviet bloc after the fall of Russian communism. Read more of his work at Watch