Mark Zuckerberg, China, and Facebook’s Brave New World

August 4, 2021 Updated: August 4, 2021

Commentary

Back in 2014, as tech journalist Cate Cadell noted at the time, a 30-year-old Mark Zuckerberg “sent the internet into a frenzy” after agreeing to do a Q&A in Chinese at an event hosted by Tsinghua University. The performance, added Cadell, “drew mixed reviews.” Some were quick to praise Zuckerberg’s “persistence.” Others, meanwhile, were determined to pick apart “his shaky pronunciation” and poor grammar.

Undeterred by critics, almost a year later, Zuckerberg was back in China. More specifically, he was back at Tsinghua University. This time, the Facebook CEO’s 22-minute speech was delivered in fluent Mandarin. No shaky pronunciations. The grammar, by and large, was flawless. Zuckerberg, a man not necessarily renowned for his humor, even managed to elicit a few chuckles from the audience. Progress had been made, and those in attendance seemed to be in awe of Zuckerberg. The feeling, at least at the time, was very much mutual.

Ever since his speech, Zuckerberg has profited handsomely from the Chinese market. According to journalists Paresh Dave and Katie Paul, Facebook Inc. sells more than “$5 billion a year worth of ad space to Chinese businesses and government agencies looking to promote their messages abroad.” After the United States, China is “Facebook’s biggest country for revenue.” Chinese customers have helped Mark Zuckerberg become the most powerful, unelected man in America. This power goes unchecked, thus allowing Zuckerberg to act with a great degree of impunity. Now, Mr. Zuckerberg, ambitious and appetitive, wants to create his own universe. More specifically, he wants to create his own metaverse.

Metaphysical Mark

What is the metaverse? The word itself is a portmanteau of “meta,” which means beyond, and “universe.” As you can probably tell, the metaverse involves embracing the unknown. In this new space, the lines between the digital and the physical become increasingly blurry.

Wired calls the metaverse a highly “immersive successor” to the internet. In this virtual space, “billions of users will move, interact, and operate across myriad different but interoperable worlds and situations.” Throughout, they—no, we—will retain our “avatar identities, virtual possessions, and digital currencies.” In other words, the internet, cryptocurrencies, VR, AI, and consciousness will be thrown into a blender. The final product, the metaverse, will be a metaphysical smoothie of sorts.

According to venture capitalist Matthew Ball, a fully-functioning metaverse must include the following: it must bridge the gap between the physical world and virtual worlds; it must contain an economy of its own; and a metaverse must offer “unprecedented interoperability.” This means that a user is able to traverse the entirety of the metaverse without encountering any major obstacles. As I write this, Facebook Inc. is currently involved in the creation of Diem, a digital currency of its own. Expect the metaverse economy to be fueled by this particular coin. In this futuristic, shared space, where virtually enhanced reality and the physical world converge, Facebook Inc. may very well call the shots.

Epoch Times Photo
Mark Zuckerberg, Facebook CEO (2nd-R), and the overseas representatives of China Development Forum applaud for the arrival of Chinese Premier Li Keqiang (L) during a meeting in the Great Hall of the People in Beijing, China, on March 21, 2016. (Kenzaburo Fukuhara/Pool/Getty Images)

Reasons to Be Concerned

Considering Facebook Inc.’s history of misusing users’ data, important questions need to be asked. They include, but are not limited to, the following: Why Facebook Inc.? What will this mean for humanity going forward? Who will monitor Zuckerberg, and who will monitor the metaverse? In a recent interview with The Verge, Zuckerberg discussed the metaverse in great detail. Users, he promises, will “be able to teleport anywhere.” The metaverse will be highly “portable and interconnected.” Zuckerberg urged readers to “think about the metaverse as an embodied internet, where instead of just viewing content—you are in it.” We, in other words, will be the frogs in the pot. Facebook, meanwhile, will adjust the temperature accordingly. This, to me, sounds like something the Chinese regime would approve of. After all, the metaverse appears to be little more than the evolution of surveillance capitalism—a new way of monetizing personal data, including biometric data (iris scans, fingerprints, etc.).

In an op-ed for the New York Post back in April, I wrote, “When we think of evil, we tend to think of men in balaclavas, armed with weapons, moving quietly through the dead of night.” However, I cautioned, “some of the worst ideas are in plain sight, and some of the worst people are in positions of power. They lobby politicians and play major roles in drafting legislation. This is the banality of evil.” Now, just to be clear, I am not saying that Mark Zuckerberg is evil. No, what’s evil is the idea of a Big Tech company, be it Facebook or any of the other big players, having even greater control over our lives. In Zuckerberg’s own words, we will no longer just view content, we will become a part of it. World governments are already struggling to regulate cryptocurrencies. How on earth are they supposed to regulate the metaverse, an evolved version of the internet?

I reached out to Facebook Inc. for comment but never received a response. In all honesty, I never expected to receive one. Remember, this is Mark Zuckerberg we are discussing, one of the most influential men in the world. He answers to very few people. And, as we enter a new world—a “Brave New World,” if you will—he might not have to answer to anyone, not even the American government.

John Mac Ghlionn is a researcher and essayist. His work has been published by the likes of The New York Post, The Sydney Morning Herald, The American Conservative, National Review, Public Discourse, and other respectable outlets. He’s also a columnist at Cointelegraph.

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

John Mac Ghlionn
John Mac Ghlionn
John Mac Ghlionn is a researcher and essayist. His work has been published by the likes of the New York Post, Sydney Morning Herald, The American Conservative, National Review, The Public Discourse, and other respectable outlets. He is also a columnist at Cointelegraph.