Meta Beta Blues: Is Zuckerberg Living Up to the Social Media Potential?

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Zuckerberg promised big things in recent years with the rebranding of Facebook as Meta. It wasn’t just a new name — it was a whole new world. But a lack of interest and subsequent continuous drop in stock value leads us to bet on the question: Is Zuckerberg living up to the social media potential that he envisioned? Or did the Metaverse fail?

“So as far as I can tell, the Metaverse is just Animal Crossing but you’re being hunted by Mark Zuckerberg.” — Andrew Nadeau

The Mega Meta Promise

In October 2021, Zuckerberg and Facebook announced that the Facebook platform was going virtual. It was going to become a 3D version of the internet. Users could interact with other users, using 3D wearable technology such as Oculus headsets or, eventually, Augmented Reality (AR) glasses. They’d be able to make 3D avatars of themselves and trounce around the world, doing almost anything they pleased. It was supposed to be a Renaissance of sorts for the social media world.

“Horizon Worlds today is an immersive social experience where you can explore, play and create together,” said a blog post from this past August. “Whether it’s a comedy club where you can step on stage and try out your dad jokes in front of an audience, a bowling alley where you hit the lanes with friends or even a place to learn about diverse people and lifestyles.

But it seems that the whole idea of a Metaverse might be a total failure. People aren’t sticking around, the headsets and 3D gear are too expensive, and the graphics appear to be low-budget, outdated, and altogether cheesy. Further, the Meta expansion and rebranding came on the heels of the explosive Facebook Papers, which led many to wonder if the company was trying to distract from all the negative press it was getting.

No One Is Really Interested Anymore

The Wall Street Journal reported that internal documents from Meta employees showed that the numbers of visitors weren’t anywhere close to initial hopes. Meta wanted half a million monthly users for its primary virtual land, Horizon Worlds. But when those numbers didn’t appear, they lowered their expectations to 280,000. That number still isn’t being reached, with active monthly users equaling less than 200,000 at this point.

In contrast, Meta’s other social media platforms, WhatsApp, Instagram, and Facebook, see a combined user population of 3.5 billion. So, the contrast is shockingly stark. That may not be a big deal for a new technology or social media platform, but it’s worrying, nonetheless.

The internal documents allegedly contain the very depressing words: “An empty world is a sad world.” Due to a lack of user engagement, Meta has been searching for ways to corral users into certain areas of Horizon Worlds where they will find other users to interact with, according to the Journal.

Metaverse Graphics Look Cheap and Boring

“We’re launching Horizon Worlds in France and Spain today!” Zuckerberg posted to Facebook. It was the caption to a picture of his Horizon Worlds avatar taking a selfie of a digital Eiffel Tower. “Looking forward to seeing people explore and build immersive worlds, and to bringing this to more countries soon.”

The post immediately sparked a slew of memes mocking the graphics of the billionaire visionary reverie’s new product.

You can’t say that Zuckerberg isn’t trying. Four days later, he posted an updated avatar.

“Major updates to Horizon and avatar graphics coming soon,” he wrote. “I’ll share more at Connect. Also, I know the photo I posted earlier this week was pretty basic — it was taken very quickly to celebrate a launch. The graphics in Horizon are capable of much more — even on headsets — and Horizon is improving very quickly.”

You can see the difference between the two avatars here.

More recently, Zuckerberg promised to add “legs” to avatars. So far, everyone’s been hanging out in the Metaverse as floating heads and torsos but with no legs.

But it doesn’t seem to be enough. As The Verge pointed out, there are other non-VR competitors out there with much better graphics.

Who Really Wants to Pay for the Headset?

The newest Meta Quest Pro Virtual Reality (VR) headsets, which will be available October 25, cost a whopping $1,499. If you don’t want to spend that much, you can downgrade to the Meta Quest 2, which costs $399.99 for a 128 GB set. Or you can go slightly bigger and get the 256 GB set for $499.99.

These numbers just don’t seem plausible for the average American, especially during a recession. And it seems an unlikely purchase for someone who wants to use the Metaverse and gets paid in a currency of lesser value, like pesos or rupees.

And forget the Metaverse real estate thing. What Millennial is going to drop cryptocurrency on a plot of imaginary land when they can’t even afford their real life rent?

Does Zuckerberg realize this, though? He himself has dumped billions of dollars into the platform. TheStreet estimates that $16 billion had been spent on Meta so far, and additionally Zuckerberg’s personal fortune has been reduced by $77.7 billion since the start of the year. Worse, Meta’s stocks have been consistently plummeting. Stock investors say the company is in “big trouble.”

Sexual Harassment, Bullying, Lack of Trust Are Major Issues

There are a plethora of reports that harassment is afoot within the Metaverse, which doesn’t help things. As Frances Haugen, a former Facebook employee-turned-whistleblower, said: “The issue of harassment in VR is a huge one. There’s going to be whole new art forms of how to harass people that are about plausible deniability.”

Online harassment via social media platforms of course isn’t a new concept. However, there is a caveat. Within VR and AR worlds, users are often interacting with other users simultaneously and in real time. If there is no screen recording or recording at all, then a person can harass another user without being tracked down.

Haugen provided a trove of documents to Congress and worldwide news outlets about the harassment that occurs on Facebook’s platforms. But her revelations didn’t stop there. She also showed that Facebook had data showing that teenage girls’ suicidal ideations rose with the use of Instagram. Republican Senator Marsha Blackburn took this data as evidence that Meta cares more about profits than the wellbeing of young people.

“It is clear that Facebook prioritizes profit over the well-being of children and all users,” said the Senator.

Meta Isn’t Appealing to the Demographic It Needs

Haugen’s data corresponds with other findings. Last October, The Verge reported about a growing aversion to Meta’s platforms among young people. A team of scientists presented Facebook executives with their data findings:

“Most young adults perceive Facebook as a place for people in their 40s and 50s,” the presenters noted. “Young adults perceive content as boring, misleading, and negative.” They added that young users “have a wide range of negative associations with Facebook including privacy concerns, impact to their wellbeing, along with low awareness of relevant services.”

Considering that new technologies most appeal to the generations that inherit them, this is a problem. Forbes reported in 2019 that Gen Z and Millennials are the world’s biggest consumers, and a big part of that consumption includes technology. “Digital transformation means fast, easy and convenient for Gen Zers and millennials,” Forbes reported. “With Gen Zers and millennials, there is no stopping the digital revolution.”

But if your technology is poorly executed, too expensive, or untrustworthy, you’re probably going to miss out on that train. In Zuckerberg’s case, he was late to the party. He had the wrong address. And while the digital revolution will continue to evolve, Meta might not be the leader that it wanted to be.

Read More: Mark Zuckerberg Shows The Internet His Fighting Skills During MMA Training

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