If the Metaverse is to follow Web 2.0, how should it be governed?

More companies are investing in Web 3.0 products such as the Metaverse and Virtual Reality. How can Big Tech learn from Web 2.0's mistakes to create a safe and inclusive space?

In recent history, the biggest platform – the Internet has given rise to the wealthiest companies in the world such as Facebook, Amazon etc. To properly suggest governance guidelines with regards to the Metaverse, it is important to first understand the current scenario of Web 2.0. There are several varying definitions for Web 2.0 but In the paper by Wilson et al (2011) the authors define Web 2.0  as the following :

Web 2.0 refers to the second generation of the Web, wherein interoperable, user-centered web applications and services promote social connectedness, media and information sharing, user-created content, and collaboration among individuals and organizations

To fully understand the magnitude of growth in the internet it is important to know that web 1.0 was simply a read-only internet in which users could not interact with the content (Nath,2022). Web 2.0 relies on connecting people and information across the web and also allowing users to create applications for other users. The advent of Web 2.0 has had many positive and negative implications for the growth of global culture and economy. Culturally speaking, Web 2.0 has led to the creation of social networking websites that promoted the global scalability of community, communication, collaboration, participation, and organisation. These five aspects strongly support social activism and the fight for social justice. Other Web 2.0 tools such as Instant Messaging and Hashtags also help raise awareness towards social causes(McAuliffe, 2019). An example of this can be the downfall of the Ugandan war criminal Joseph Kony in 2012 due to the hashtag ” #Kony2012 ”  (Goswami,2018). The advent of Web 2.0 has done wonders for society but there still exists some problems that can also transcend to the next version of the internet which is discussed in this essay.

Web 2.0 has mainly been leveraged by tech companies to launch their products and their main business model relies on advertising and user data. Large Web 2.0 companies such as Facebook, Instagram and Youtube mainly generate revenue through advertisements (Chehade,2011). Large tech companies use Web 2.0 to create a cycle of collecting data from their consumers to use that data to again sell them a product. This has many negative ethical implications since personal data is being collected from the users for monetary gains. Along with additional information such as location data, An issue risen through collection of personal information is surveillance into people’s lives using their data and when companies gain revenue from such data it is termed as ‘surveillance capitalism’ (Zuboff, 2014). Additionally, the interactive nature of Web 2.0 has also led to countless cyberattacks which have caused financial losses for victims (Lewis,2018) and countless data breaches.

Figure 1 : “Web 3.0 – Cloud Computing Platforms as a Service” by andrewpeterfogg is licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0.

Figure 1 by Nath (2022) summarizes the evolution of the web and its principles. The next stage of the Web is Web 3.0 and a product of this new Web is the Metaverse.

Figure 2 : “Virtual Worlds Best Practices in Education 2014 – Connections” by CallieDel Boa- in and out… is licensed under CC BY-NC 2.0.

The Metaverse is the next chapter of the internet which is embodied in a virtual world as seen in Figure 2. Users can work, learn, shop and conduct more ‘real’ world activities in this ‘virtual’ world (Zuckerberg, 2021). The Metaverse follows key principles of digitial ownership and transferring a user’s digital identity across platforms. the metaverse economy is built based on Blockchain technology which is based on decentralization and gives the power to the users. Before the Metaverse, in Web 2.0, data breaches and cyberattacks were common issue. In the metaverse, due to decentralization, there is no central authority that holds users’ personal information which makes it safer for users (Nath,2022). Ironically, Facebook which is a leading player in the Metaverse has in the past sold their users’ personal information without the consent of their users to an analytics company – Cambridge Analytica (Confessore,2018). Thus, Meta – Facebook’s parent company implementing the Metaverse must undergo some form of regulation to ensure accountability. Non-fungible Token (NFT) is another technology that the Metaverse supports in the form of a digital token showing ownership of a digital asset or personal data which has given the control of a digital asset completely to the owner without any interference. 

Web 2.0 cannot support the Metaverse since the Metaverse includes new technologies such as VR, AR, Artificial Intelligence, Blockchain, etc. Hence the creation of a new web – Web 3.0 gives rise to new opportunities for Metaverse companies to implement new social and cultural policies based on issues seen in Web 2.0 such as personal disclosure, legality, security, diversity, and moderation. Metaverse’s focus on decentralization, digital ownership and digital identity helps solve Web 2.0 problems of personal disclosure, and to a certain extent even privacy and legality of personal information since no central authority stores or owns user data and hence isn’t as prone to traditional Surveillance Capitalism. Despite several benefits of Web 3.0, two major problems that can still transcend from Web 2.0 to the Metaverse are :
Content and User Moderation: Web 2.0 saw the rise of large social media platforms that dominated the quantity of content being produced on the web. A moderation issue arises when content is ambiguous or not screened and doesn’t fit into the rules and guidelines of the platform. Roberts (2019, pp. 33–72) defines content moderation as the “organized screening of user-generated content posted online”. Most of the time unfit content is often categorized as being hate-inciting, racist, misogynistic, and misinformation. This screening process is often done manually by humans as seen in the case of Facebook and this leads to psychological trauma for such employees who have even witnessed content including blood and gore (Dwoskin et al., 2019). Web 2.0 also led to the creation of Virtual Communities which are communities only connected through the internet. While virtual communities have shown benefits of connecting like-minded people, some virtual communities such as 4Chan have led to the spread of many conspiracy theories and misinformation (Ball & Maxmen, 2020). Now, due to the 3-D nature of the metaverse this problem of moderation manifolds. Meta recently released a prototype Virtual Reality platform called Horizon Worlds.In Horizon Worlds, BuzzFeed employees also created a private world called Qniverse to test Meta’s content moderation capabilities. The virtual world was populated with fake news and racist remarks. When people reported the world, a meta moderator said “The content in the Qniverse doesn’t violate our Content in VR Policy”. Thus, the issue of spreading conspiracy theories and fake news continues in the next version of the internet. Additionally, a 21 year old researcher on this platform was sexually assaulted since there weren’t any restrictions created to prevent it (Robertson, 2022). Along with misogyny and harassment, such an act has several implications with regards to child safety and grooming over the internet which was seen in Web 2.0 (Viola de Azevedo Cunha, 2017). After this incident of harassment in the Metaverse, Facebook announced ‘personal boundaries’ between virtual characters who are not registered as friends.

“Welcome to Second Life, Now Let’s Grope….” by Dean Terry is licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0.

Technical vulnerabilities: Even though the Metaverse is based on decentralization which promotes ownership of personal data, technologies associated with the Metaverse such as sensors, cameras and the cloud each have their own vulnerabilities that pose new privacy and ethical dilemmas. From Web 2.0, it is clear that big tech companies have used data to drive their algorithms to generate revenue.An argument for this is that in the metaverse, people are creating virtual identities of themselves and because of that activities and characteristics of an individual can be leveraged by big tech companies for profit.A key feature proposed for the Metaverse is the interoperability of user avatars, digital assets and data which means that it could once again lead to companies violating user privacy for advertising or in this case virtual advertising (Weingarden & Artzt, 2022). The EU General Data Protection Regulation (EU GDPR) considers health data such as biometric information sensitive personal data and hence can only be used for verification. More policymakers should collaborate globally before the growth of the Metaverse to determine ethical use cases of any data being collected (Sivell & Fei, 2022).

To conclude, the Metaverse solves many key problems faced by Web 2.0 products that are data ownership and decentralization. Still, there are some key learning from Web 2.0 that can form policymaking and governance guidelines for businesses implementing the Metaverse. To avoid such issues global regulatory measures should are required to govern this platform and Metaverse companies should also ensure complete transparency for the users. Facebook is taking rapid measures for governing the Metaverse such as introducing personal boundaries and creating their own policies to ensure a safe space for everyone. For now, due to the complex technical nature of the Metaverse, large-scale adoption of this technology is still going to take time and companies should use this time to make Metaverse a safe platform since it has the potential to benefit society if key issues seen in Web 2.0 are governed and managed.



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