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Illustration Courtesy of Jam Moreno

Can the Metaverse be an Escape Route for Zuckerberg?

Mark Zuckerberg is betting everything on the Metaverse. Will his wager pay off?

Dec 12, 2021

Mark Zuckerberg looked like a man unburdened when he appeared onscreen at Facebook's Connect 2021 conference on Oct. 28.
Francis Haugen? Who is that? Regulators are angry, employees are quitting and lawmakers are comparing Facebook to Big Tobacco’s long-running trust crisis.
Instead of retreating under the pressure, Zuckerberg and his team excitedly laid out their vision for the metaverse, an immersive virtual environment that Facebook — which has been renamed Meta as of Oct. 28 — is working to create.
There are a variety of questions raised in regard to this metaverse approach. The first and most fundamental question is: What is a metaverse and what will Facebook's version of it look like?
The Oct. 28 presentation provided an answer to that question, at least in part. People can attend virtual work meetings, go to virtual concerts, play virtual games using Oculus, collect virtual art (perhaps NFTs would be an option in the future), shop for virtual goods and hang out with each other's virtual avatars.
The idea of an immersive digital realm is not new, but Zuckerberg is betting Facebook's future on it, claiming that the metaverse will be the "successor to the mobile internet."
"Will this work?" is another simple thing to ask. I am doubtful that Facebook — a bureaucracy that has made its biggest accomplishments in the last decade by buying other programs or copying their features — would create an immersive digital realm that people want to spend time in.
The more intriguing question is: Why is Zuckerberg doing this? And, while some have theorized that the Meta rebranding is intended to divert attention away from Facebook's recent scandals, it is difficult to believe that unveiling a daring ambition to recreate the digital world will make detractors less suspicious of the company's objectives.
To understand why Zuckerberg is going all-in on the metaverse, consider that a successful metaverse pivot may help Facebook solve at least four vexing challenges.
The first is that Facebook's core users are rapidly aging and younger users are fleeing the company's apps in favor of TikTok and other alternatives. In 2021, 72 percent of American teenagers used YouTube on a weekly basis, while 63 percent used TikTok, compared with 57 percent for Instagram. Facebook's demographic crisis has not yet damaged the company financially, but even Instagram, Facebook's purportedly robust product, is gradually losing the attention of adolescents.
The second issue that Facebook is dealing with is regulatory vulnerability. EU tech regulators, traditionally among the strictest, are enacting new privacy laws which would impose stronger rules on how internet corporations police their platforms. In addition to stricter competition rules, these seem to be an attempt to reduce the monopoly of platforms like Facebook over the digital economy. It would make sense to place bets in areas where Facebook holds a monopoly and that are less likely to be regulated in the future, like the virtual reality and artificial intelligence industries. Politicians would be excluded from the metaverse, too, as so many of Facebook's regulatory issues “originate” from how its apps are the basis for contentious political debate.
Platform dependency risk is a third issue that Facebook's metaverse strategy could address. Zuckerberg has been irritated for years that because Facebook's mobile apps run on iOS and Android, the company's growth is heavily reliant on Apple and Google. Apple's "app tracking transparency" modifications earlier this year hurt Facebook's ad revenue by making it more difficult for the company to acquire data on users' mobile activities.
The metaverse could finally make Facebook independent of Apple and Google by directing users to Facebook-owned platforms like Oculus, where it will not have to worry about getting kicked out of the App Store for prying on users' activities or aiding illegal domestic worker trafficking.
If it succeeds, Zuckerberg's metaverse will usher in a new golden age for the company, tying together all of the previous products and apps Facebook has created and utilizing them into one branded universe that can influence totally new forms of culture, communication and business.
Stefan Mitikj is Senior Communications Editor and Staff Writer. Email him at
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