Beijing Will Attempt to Censor the Metaverse

Free the avatars from China
By Anders Corr
Anders Corr
Anders Corr
Anders Corr has a bachelor's/master's in political science from Yale University (2001) and a doctorate in government from Harvard University (2008). He is a principal at Corr Analytics Inc., publisher of the Journal of Political Risk, and has conducted extensive research in North America, Europe, and Asia. His latest books are “The Concentration of Power: Institutionalization, Hierarchy, and Hegemony” (2021) and “Great Powers, Grand Strategies: the New Game in the South China Sea" (2018).
January 28, 2022Updated: February 2, 2022


The metaverse is coming.

Imagine users jumping into a virtual reality (VR) mountain lake that feels cold, wet, and buoyant. They “swim” across the lake, using their own arm movements, emerge flying into clouds warmed by a volcano, and bump into an artificial-intelligence-powered Einstein ready to field questions about relativity.

To give the feeling of reality to that scene, developers at Facebook, now called Meta, along with competitors at Apple, Google, and Microsoft, are creating more than the standard headset and hand controllers currently associated with VR.

A metaverse suit that gives the illusion of touch and temperature has now grown from a “haptic finger” to a “haptic glove.” The ultimate metaverse experience will include rooms in which users’ actual bodies are immersed in water or engaged in indoor skydiving.

Metaverse users choose a 3D-animated representation of themselves—or someone they would like to be—called an avatar. They strap on a physical video headset, grasp a couple of hand controllers to navigate through a 3D-animated world, and meet other avatars controlled by real people or the computer, with whom they can talk and shake hands.

Big tech companies are all trying to dominate the space, which is arguably a lucrative natural monopoly. Yes, a diversity of quirky offshoots are competing with the tech titans, but like social media, films, and shopping malls, consumers tend to aggregate around the branded, centralized, and popular content with the biggest budget.

Epoch Times Photo
A software engineer explores with a virtual reality helmet the most detailed 3D map of the universe with virtual reality software developed by the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology, in St-Sulpice near Lausanne, Switzerland, on Oct. 12, 2021. (Laurent Gillieron/Keystone via AP)

Metaverse operators harvest personal data on individual preferences and shopping interests, along with abundant advertising revenues. They sell virtual real estate and products. Want your avatar to wear a Burberry scarf and Prada shoes? It will cost real money.

When Roger Federer’s avatar steps into the metaverse, driving a 2025 Mercedes-Benz concept car and wearing a 2025 Rolex concept watch, he’ll get paid to do so.

Whoever controls the metaverse likely will get a cut of its transactions. The promise of metaverse revenues explains the gold rush atmosphere of competitive investment.

China’s tech giants, including Baidu, Bytedance, Tencent, and Alibaba, are also jumping into the fray.

Beijing will almost certainly attempt to censor and control the metaverse, as well as push its more “productive” uses, such as professionals attending a virtual meeting with colleagues, students attending lectures in virtual classrooms, or military cadets training in warlike atmospheres.

But don’t expect the Dalai Lama to walk into the classroom unexpectedly. There will be no protests or mention of the Tiananmen Square massacre in Baidu’s metaverse. Males will be discouraged from looking too “feminine” in their personal style, and females will be encouraged to dress conservatively. “Non-productive” time in the metaverse will be limited, as is gaming in China today.

The Chinese Communist Party (CCP) has real-world plans for global domination, and it doesn’t want its citizens socially corrupted in a virtual fairyland when they could be manufacturing tanks, warships, and silicon chips in real-world factories.

But there’s also much to be gained for the CCP—in revenues, personal data, and propaganda opportunities—by dominating metaverse initiatives globally. It won’t mind the metaverse’s corruption of Western youth, who it prefers to remove from real-world competition.

But the Party will attempt to extend its influence to global content production. As with its influence over Hollywood films, China will use its funding and gatekeeper status to Chinese consumers and workers to attempt to strong-arm Western tech companies.

If Apple wants Chinese citizens to access its metaverse, if it wants them to spend millions of hours in 3D modeling of the metaverse, and if it wants to continue selling iPhones and iPads in China, then it better make sure that it “tells a positive story” about China and the CCP to not only Chinese citizens, but metaverse users globally. That will mean no mention of Tiananmen Square in Apple’s metaverse, for example.

Falun Gong users in New York who try to protest virtually on land they buy in Apple’s metaverse or carry a virtual banner saying “Truthfulness, Compassion, and Forbearance” could simply vanish for violating its CCP-influenced terms of service. If Apple became the hegemonic metaverse that almost all users go to, much as they almost all go to Facebook or Twitter today for their social media needs, then serious freedom of speech issues would be raised.

The European Union is already talking about regulating the metaverse and discouraging anti-competitive practices, of which Meta is accused. Regulators, freedom of speech, and freedom of religion advocates should plan on extending the protection of constitutional freedoms to our avatars as they populate that future space. The metaverse must be an outlet for avatar freedom, and avatars should have rights that aren’t controlled by the arbitrary rules of Meta, the CCP, or anyone else.

Views expressed in this article are the opinions of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of The Epoch Times.

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