The term metaverse was coined in 1992 by science-fiction writer Neal Stephenson in his novel Snow Crash. Its most basic definition refers to “the concept of a fully immersive virtual world where people gather to socialise, play, and work.”
It represented a parallel virtual reality universe created from computer graphics, which users from around the world can access and connect through goggles and earphones.
The metaverse concept recently publicised by Facebook’s rebranding as Meta will revolutionise how we interact with the world. Facebook’s CEO Mark Zuckerberg stated that “the next generation of the internet is metaverse” and that existing social media will come under the umbrella of this new wave.
He describes the metaverse as “a virtual environment where you can present yourself with people in digital spaces. You can kind of think of this as an embodied internet that you’re inside of, rather than just looking at.”
The major problem of professional and academic Egyptian media treatment regarding the metaverse is flattening, either by limiting its risks on health and physical problems, or by posing a danger at the level of security penetration.
Some experts in Egypt are still talking about the metaverse as if it is a kind of imagination and that it will not easily reach our world due to weak technical infrastructure.
The truth is that the Generation Z, according to the theory of the diffusion of innovations will be more accepting to it out of their passion for online games and entertainment value and of course human curiosity about exploring metaverse worlds.
Talking about the metaverse does not only include the technical and material capabilities and their limits, but the matter goes beyond that because sooner or later the technology will soon be subject to the law of supply and demand and this technology will become more cheap and closer to citizens.
When that happens, the countries consuming this technology will turn into a valuable treasure of data and information trading for the countries that manufacture the technology.
We are facing a number of challenges related to metaverse-based immersive technologies. Both technologies are persuasive and can influence users’ cognition, emotions, and behaviours
Moral issues include unauthorised augmentation and fact manipulation towards biased views. Data collection and sharing with other parties constitutes the risk with the widest implications in terms of privacy.
The additional data layer can emerge as a possible cybersecurity threat. Volumetric capturing and spatial doxing can lead to privacy violations.
More importantly, metaverse actors can be tempted to compile users’ biometric psychography based on user data emotions. These profiles could be used for unintended behavioural inferences that fuel algorithmic bias. High-fidelity AR or VR environments and violent representations can trigger traumatic experiences.
Data ethics, AI algorithms, and deep learning techniques can be utilised to create VR deep fake avatars and identity theft. The immersion with interaction in 3D virtual worlds in metaverse leads to the additional affordances of identity construction, presence, and co-presence.
Some of the major concerns in social cognitive and neurology research fields are the identification with one’s avatar in metaverse can have profound psychological impact on behaviour and learning; embodied experiences as avatars in virtual reality spaces have a direct influence on human behaviour and transfer to the physical world.
The embodied digital identity and the ability to engage with the environment and virtual objects in multiple points of view, such as the third-person perspective, creates the psychological sense of being in a space, experiencing presence.
Presence or telepresence is the perceptual illusion of non-mediation. The psychological illusion of non-mediation implies that users fail to perceive the existence of a medium that intervenes in their communicative environment.
The adoption of passive profiling technology by metaverse developers utilising the push technology to ensure their users are targeted with the appropriate psychographic profiles.
Passive profiling technology uses the search words, emotion, interaction with VR headsets that users wear together to build the psychographic profile of the user.
Researchers who worked on passive profiling technology find some individuals don’t prefer to be less involved with multimedia content flowing to their VR headsets, but they want to be actively seeking content. Researchers then somehow changed their method, so they control what appears to the users’ headsets.
The mood of a nation is the measurement used by the people, and it shows to what extent countries can succeed or fail. A nation whose psychological mood is ill, its national security becomes unbalanced as the shaken citizen is easy to misguide in any direction. When the general mood is desperate, the national security in its general sense is disturbed.
A country can, for example, direct public opinion and measure it, but it cannot do so with the public mood. There is another important and vital difference — and it may be more dangerous — which is that the public mood is not in the interest of the governments to notice and see, but they measure its repercussion or implications without notice.
The metaverse is an intriguing shift from merely controlling what you see or reading specific content to making you adopt a certain behaviour or to influence your emotions and feelings to the ability to create and shape feelings that do not exist in the first place, and here is the era of psychological wars and the management of self-conflict within the user.
Encouraging suicide, spreading a culture of indifference, polarisation, and glorifying violent acts as a matter of fame and recognition are some of the concerns arising from the possible effects of the metaverse.
The naked truth about the metaverse is that there is an issue of complex psychological and mental effects that requires the utmost efforts of communication and media scientists, neuroscientists, brain sciences, and security experts to develop an integral educational and media model to deal with the metaverse, especially among youths and adolescents.
This requires real continuous awareness campaigns (seminars, integrated marketing, mentorship, orientation, symposiums, etc.) targeting homes, schools and universities, otherwise we will find ourselves in volatility traps of general mood swings, psychological wars, and their severe repercussions, which we will not notice before it is too late.
* Sara Fawzy is a Lecturer at Faculty of Mass Communication, Cairo University