The metaverse as a mind control device is the next conspiracy theory you can expect to see on your screens. With massive potential to immerse us in a world hyper-rich with digital information, it wouldn’t be a shock to see some of this information be propaganda and manipulative media designed to control the minds of the masses.
We’ve already seen something similar with current social media; targeted ads and cookies that make use of personal data to turn us into perfect consumers. The metaverse could make it even worse. This is something we should all be worried about—but if we’re careful, it’s something that can easily be avoided.
Mass Media, Mass Surveillance
The metaverse will be the next big mass-media platform and the future of communication, transcending devices and experiences across the world. It will create a massive shift in how we interact with one another and the world around us.
Though there’s no specific company building it, many companies are iterating on technology that will make up its infrastructure. Meta is one such entity, focusing on VR headsets and their own virtual platform ‘Horizon Worlds’, which thus far has been lacking in adoption.
While it might have exponential capacity to improve workflows, efficiency, and connectivity across the world, with all these benefits comes some serious risks.
If left unchecked, the metaverse could be a source of propaganda and mind control through mass media channels like Facebook's newsfeed algorithm—which has already been shown to influence users’ buying behavior without them even realizing it.
With its focus on more immersive audio-visual experiences and augmented reality, the surface for richer information expands. As the technology becomes commonplace, it’s likely that we’ll become more reliant on it, making us too quick to trust.
Failing to Prepare—Prepare to Fail
If we’ve learned anything from the digital age so far, it’s that nobody has been properly prepared for the downsides that technology brings.
Social media and the internet brought us closer together and put information at our fingertips. Back then, tech experts believed that the internet would bring us towards a utopia—it would make everyone smarter, since information would be everywhere and easy to access, and communication made simple, with instant messaging possible across the world.
While according to recent research this is partly true—people are getting smarter on average—the availability of information has in fact made it harder to trust, with the advent of fake news, trolling and major tech companies controlling our data—to control our behavior.
Still, it’s important not to blame the technology itself: Technology is neutral, neither good nor bad—it’s up to us and what we do with it.
Rampant harassment, polarization and increasing partisanship are likely due to the business model of major “Web2” companies—they profit off our data by selling it to others; they control the flows of information input and output to maximize their own revenues. And the metaverse, being the next iteration of the internet, could make this quite seriously worse.
To protect innocent users from tech companies who put profits before public safety, experts and leaders need to be ready.
Ready to put into place standards, rights and regulatory safeguards that protect the privacy and data of metaverse users so that major companies are unable to employ predatory practices.
In an ideal world, the metaverse will be fully decentralized, with people in control of their own data, eliminating this possibility from the get-go. But that might be wishful thinking.