Meta’s first Metaverse experience is here.
Facebook this month announced that Horizon Worlds, a VR world of avatars, is opening to the public. U.S. and Canadian citizens over eighteen will soon be able to dawn Oculus headsets and enter an animated virtual world inhabited by friends and colleagues. The announcement follows Facebook’s rebrand into ‘Meta’ to reflect a $10 billion investment in the new virtual terrain, and Mark Zuckerberg’s decision to de-prioritize political content and push for a “politically neutral” platform.
Politics and ideology, however, manifest in every invention (especially digital platforms involving millions of human beings who bring their biases with them). A Metaverse experience without politics is unrealistic, as politics is ingrained in human nature like the user behavioral patterns that Meta plans to study and sell to advertisers.
Looking past the PR language tech executives shill about the Metaverse and Web3 (mirroring the mid-2000s rhetoric about the “democratization” tools of social media platform), Paradox has put together some predictions on how political movements are likely to play out across this new realm of hyperreality.
Political Scandals in the Metaverse Will Impact ‘Real World’ Elections
Hacked emails and sensational tweets in hyperreality determine elections when people show up to vote. Political moments in “the real world” and the Metaverse will become further intertwined, informing one another while allowing for new organizational tactics and PsyOps campaigns across these two realities.
Just as political and news organizations have built massive followings on social media platforms like Twitter and Facebook, they will stake presences in the Metaverse, and will inevitably face challenges in adapting. A political scandal that occurs in the Metaverse (already some early-stage users have reported that Horizon Worlds has a sexual harassment problem) will broadcast back to “the real world” and alter voters’ opinions, while shaping public opinion, conversation, and cultural aesthetic.
Easier Mobilization for Global Fascist Movements
The U.S. 2016 Presidential Election, Brexit, and the subsequent European populist movements underscored the power of social media in harnessing nationalist sentiments. These movements occurred on widely used platforms like Facebook and Twitter, but over the years, smaller and less moderated forums like Gab and 4Chan became extremist cesspools for incels and white supremacists.
Twitter and Facebook banning these voices may prevent hateful ideologies from spreading, but the stopgap also funnels these figures into a few concentrated online spaces where they further radicalize one another and become even more extreme in their beliefs.
These individuals represent a very small minority, but they found each other through the Internet, forming a transnational movement across different forums and messaging apps. In the Metaverse, these individuals will continue to connect and recruit new members. The possibility of extremists forming virtual ethno-states is not out of the question in a largely unregulated hyperreal terrain. These groups could lead virtual rallies within their respective worlds at large scale, which would, as mentioned above, have ramifications for elections in the real world.
New Political Ideologies and Classes Could Form
Despite Zuckerberg’s attempts to turn the Metaverse into an end-to-end corporate amusement park with heavy moderation and likely censorship, many tech executives are committed to building egalitarian and democratic communities here. The Metaverse will likely be governed by several main corporations like Meta, Roblox, and Microsoft, but also have many decentralized worlds with different governance structures.
These virtual incubators within the Metaverse could serve as case studies for new political frameworks that break free from capitalist realism and antiquated rival ideologies like communism. While an evolution beyond capitalism may prove impossible because the underlying ideology of the Metaverse is predicated on the expansion of new markets, this territory does lay in place new material conditions for experimentation.
Entrenched Metaverse Silos
The proliferation of new virtual worlds in which like-minded individuals form the equivalent of Internet nation-states (colonies promoting progressive or regressive ideologies) will inevitably fuel political polarization. Those with differing ideologies will encounter each other less and instead opt for virtual realities most familiar.
While many military experts have argued that traditional warfare and nation-state models have been rendered irrelevant by the Internet, and that conflict occurs most frequently via grey-zone tactics, this trend could reverse in the Metaverse. As human beings gravitate toward communities based on their cognitive biases and learned experiences, new lines will emerge in hyperreality that mirror the old lines between nations.
Traditionalist Backlash Against the Metaverse
Conservatism historically serves as a bulwark against modernity, and the Metaverse is a modern notion that will unnerve traditionalists. While political operatives will need to find ways to co-opt various spaces within the Metaverse, and harness its mass communication abilities, Republicans might initially tap into populist resentments toward the space.
Tucker Carlson has run repeated Fox News segments on elites creating a system in which the majority of Americans become renters thanks to BlackRock buying up entire neighborhoods; 21st century serfs who do not own homes or real assets. The Metaverse could serve as a similar polarizing reference point with nationalist leaders mocking technocrats to their audiences with lines like, “You will own nothing and be happy.”
Escapism from Climate Change
The Metaverse is at its core escapism from a world afflicted by climate change, extreme inequality, and diminishing natural resources. Rather than deal with these challenges head on, a subset of human beings have decided it is easier to reproduce the conditions which led to these problems in the first place.
When individuals dive deeper into hyperreality and further detach themselves from the physical world which underpins everything, the Matrix becomes social realism. But for those using the Metaverse as grounds to experiment with new cognitive tools for shifting human behavior toward better outcomes that remedy the most vexing problems of the time, politics is redefined.