Can Facebook align with the values of the metaverse?

The following is a guest post by Adam Jeffries, CEO of Metaplex Studios. Opinions are the author’s own.

It’s becoming more apparent within mainstream media that blockchain technology is making itself known and pushing its way into our everyday lives. Within the average users’ daily scroll through social media, we are beginning to see the impact that Web3 — decentralized apps that run on the blockchain — is having. Social video app TikTok recently integrated with Audius, a blockchain version of Spotify, and took out a full page ad to promote the creator economy while Twitter has become the main platform for crypto projects to engage with their community. Between April and June, there were 12.3 million mentions of cryptocurrency on Twitter, 6.57 million users hashtagging “crypto” and a wave of new NFTs being incorporated into Twitter as users’ profile pictures.

While some social networks are keeping it simple while still trying to get in on the fun, Facebook is taking it to a whole new level. The social networking giant recently announced plans to invest $50 million into the metaverse with as many as 10,000 new job opportunities for European workers and to change its corporate name to Meta

But can centralized Facebook make a smooth transition into the metaverse and be welcomed by the global decentralized community?

Well, it all comes down to value alignment.

Making sense of the metaverse

Metaverse. It’s a term that has been frequenting many corporations lately. Celebrities by the likes of Reese Witherspoon, Paris Hilton, Mark Cuban and Snoop Dogg have all spoken about being involved, and big tech firms Google, Apple and Microsoft are investing. Roblox, a self-titled metaverse company, also debuted on the New York Stock Exchange earlier this year. But what is it and why is everyone so excited about it?

In true technological fashion, there is no universally accepted definition of a metaverse.

Simply put, it’s an expansive network of real-time rendered 3D worlds and simulations with a goal to provide co-ownership and participation. It’s not a virtual reality experience or virtual economy with avatars “hanging out,” but a way to support continuity of identity, objects, payments, history and ownership.

Why’d it get Zuck’s attention?

The metaverse, in its entirety, is a very cool concept. SIDUS, the NFT collection that launched to act as an access portal into a gaming metaverse shows how creative the technology can get. We also have seen companies such as Dolce and Gabbana selling digital clothing NFTs for people to “wear” in the metaverse.

Unlike companies such as Steve Madden, which is incorporating metaverses into its current branding, Facebook has grand plans to transition into a metaverse company. But transitioning to a responsible metaverse means the social giant will need to shed the processes of its large corporate structures and embrace community ownership and rule-making.

Within a metaverse, there are three pillars in place to ensure responsibility.

  1. Transparency: In a permissionless blockchain, everything is out in the open as users are continually contributing to the ecosystem. Users own their own data.
  2. Decentralized: Facebook is currently centralized, relying on one individual to make decisions and provide the direction for the company. With its recent decision, it would give up that power as decentralized organizations rely on a team environment at many different levels, and everyone has the autonomy to make business decisions.
  3. Community: This goes beyond groups and social connections. A metaverse is created together. There is no limit to what it can be, so it’s up to the creators and advertisers to maintain a virtual ecosystem positively.

Centralized organizations like Facebook care about their business and what they want to accomplish. Unfortunately, that usually doesn’t correspond with the good of the community. Knowing what we know, Facebook’s current ideals conflict with the ideas of decentralized spaces that metaverses were designed to represent.

But let’s say it does decentralize

Ironically, the decentralized internet was hailed as a way to dethrone companies such as Twitter and Facebook by challenging the centralized power structure and walled gardens.

To become a decentralized organization, Facebook would have to do away with its high power of authority and give up current control. It would have to increase community involvement in decision-making — a far reach from its traditional practices — and would need to rearrange its values regarding personal data and privacy. Previously under fire for the collection of user information and concealment of research, the currently centralized organization operates in the shadows, which directly challenges a key responsibility pillar of the metaverse.

It will never work out

The social network’s conflicting outward values will result in lots of talk of decentralization, but no action as conflicting values in a decentralized system don’t work. The community is supposed to work together to create a homogenous system. If the values aren’t clear, the system will work against itself and fail.

Facebook’s reasoning behind its possible shift is unclear. Its history of buying up other apps like Instagram and WhatsApp points to motives of monopolizing the market. In truth, Facebook doesn’t want Web3, it wants power.