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5 Ways the Metaverse Could Worsen the Effects of Social Media


Technology often moves faster than the regulations that are supposed to control it. And while growth in the tech industry is seen by many as a sign of societal development, it’s not always clear how and to what degree a certain emerging technology may impact our world.

Take social media, for example. Today, billions of people in the world use social media platforms. But lawmakers are still getting to grips with regulations as studies shed more light on the negative impacts these platforms have had on societies and users.

Given the advent of the metaverse, we could see something similar in the next few years.

Here are a few ways the metaverse could worsen the negative effects of social media…

1. Increased Pressure and Social Comparison


woman with brown hair in a bun in a dark-room touching digital display illuminated in front of her

It’s not uncommon for people to feel like they’re not good enough after using social media. Researchers have found links between using social media and the pressures of social comparison.

In fact, a 2014 study in the Journal of Social and Clinical Psychology found that participants “feel depressed after spending a great deal of time on Facebook because they feel badly when comparing themselves to others”.

The filtered, curated nature of social media feeds increases pressure to look a certain way and to post certain achievements or milestones.

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The metaverse could worsen this problem. Roughly speaking, a direct consequence of having the freedom and the ability to portray yourself through an avatar may increase dissatisfaction with your real-world self.

Read more: What Is the Metaverse and How Will It Change Your Life?

One study by researchers at the University of South Australia investigated how posting selfies on social media, as well as the ability to edit photos, affected the internalization of the tanned appearance ideal in participants.

As the study notes:

We found that the number of photos that a user takes and shares on SNSs (social networking sites) appears to be an associated risk factor for internalization and comparisons.

In other words, there’s nothing wrong with playing with dog filters, but having to curate and share your image often may increase the pressure to appear a certain way.

In the metaverse, where your digital presence will be essential through your avatar, anxiety around appearances may intensify.

2. Potential Risk for Addiction


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We know that social media can be addictive for some people. And companies deliberately tweak algorithms to keep users on the platform and engaged for as long as possible.

The more time a user spends on a social media platform, the more ads they can be shown—earning the platform more money.

This is more or less the entire business model of all social media platforms. And it’s not too wild to assume that the metaverse will follow the same business model. Only this time, it will be nearly impossible to ignore.

Think about it, a virtual world can be as stimulating as you want it to be. It can provide you with constant stimulation and unlimited novel experiences. Living in such an environment would soon make reality feel bland and unsatisfying in comparison.

After all, why bother going to the park for a walk when you can play darts in outer space, right? This can leave some users vulnerable as algorithms work to retain their attention or pull them back in.

Related: Does Social Media Do More Harm Than Good for Society?

3. Cyberbullying Becomes Worse


Cyberattacker

We’ve seen countless headlines on how cyberbullying affects social media users and how these platforms struggle to curb harassment. It’s one of the biggest reasons why some people choose to avoid using social media completely.

Since the metaverse is so much more immersive, harassment in such a digital world could also feel more threatening and distressing.

We’ve already had a reported case of harassment in Meta’s VR game Horizon Worlds, where a beta tester reported:

Sexual harassment is no joke on the regular internet, but being in VR adds another layer that makes the event more intense. Not only was I groped last night, but there were other people there who supported this behavior which made me feel isolated in the Plaza.

Such cases do not sit well with the image Meta and other developers are trying to build for the metaverse.

Without strict policies and regulations in place, cases like this could easily multiply and make people resistant to trying out the new technology and seeing its potential.

4. Moderation Becomes More Difficult

Misinformation tends to spread really fast, especially when given the means to do so. It’s one thing to have a team of moderators regulating a social media platform such as Facebook and a whole other thing to moderate an entire virtual universe.

The workforce and algorithms required to moderate something that massive and complex is an enormous challenge, to say the least. By the time any regulatory measures are taken, it’s possible for misformation, scams, theft, and violent content have already done significant damage.

Considering that moderating text-based communications and video clips is already such a difficult task for many platforms, it’s unclear what the plans are to moderate digital worlds where users will communicate primarily through real-time audio and VR avatars.

Related: Reasons You Should Be Worried About the Facebook Metaverse

5. Ads and Data Harvesting Become More Intrusive


Person Sitting Down With Scary Looking Shadow Behind Them

In its fully developed form, the metaverse may end up being where many of us spend most of our time. This means that almost everything we do will be done digitally, from online shopping to playing games and meeting new people.

Just using your phone, companies already track things like dwell time, search terms, and other forms of engagement you make. In a virtual universe, the potential for data mining will be even greater as your actions and hardware leave behind more data.

All this data can be used to create detailed and nuanced models of your personality and behavior patterns—all of which can be sold to advertisers to bombard you with highly personalized, timely, and targeted ads.

The more a company knows about you, the better it can tailor its marketing and pricing strategies to influence you to buy more. And on an integrated digital platform, who’s to say your shopping ads won’t find their way into your metaverse games or social meetups?

Related: Key Revelations From The Facebook Papers

While we agree that the metaverse will be an achievement, and a big one at that, we also can’t deny its risks. The dangers it proposes are far too real to ignore. And the controversies that Meta (formerly Facebook) is infamous for don’t help build trust in the system either.


If building the metaverse is inevitable, it must be done with proper precaution and with patience.


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