Zuck, Facebook Meta & The Influencer Roadshow

I tweeted over the weekend (14.11.21) that I was disappointed with the community interviews Mark Zuckerberg has done around the launch of Meta and his vision for the Metaverse. In particular, highlighting those of Gary Vee and Matthew Ball as people who have previously engaged with, and occasionally spoken on behalf of, the Web 3 community. Matthew complained the criticism was unfair so I wanted to do a fuller and more detailed response outside of the constraints of Twitter in reply.

My main criticism was I felt they were both at best a ‘free pass’ and major missed opportunity for the community to really interrogate Meta and Facebook as an organisations and their intentions towards the space (Matthew’s) and at worst (Gary’s) a complete circle jerk. Both making the whole influencer / not media roadshow look cynical and incredibly contrived. I don’t think it helped any of the participants, not least Meta.

The purpose of my tweets was to call out what I felt was either naivety or complicity in our community with Big Tech and to encourage Zuck to engage with the Open Metaverse community more sincerely. Because whether we like it or not Facebook (as I still like to call them) are here to stay and will be a major force in the space.

tbh I was going to leave it there but Matthew Ball (totally reasonably) challenged my assertion that he didn’t ‘ask probing questions’ which is understandably subjective. So I felt it only fair to him I address the point more specifically.

Recap of the topics I stated in my tweet I would have wanted to see raised;

  • Privacy

And I think its pretty clear in my choice of wording is I was not just asking it was checked off a list but followed through in a ‘probing’ way that forced real answers that were effectively interrogated. It seemed, whilst no means everyone, but a significant majority agreed with me in a tweet poll.

Disclaimer: It’s also a valid criticism to say if either Gary or Matthew ran the same poll with their communities there may have been a different result. But this is kinda the point which I will expand on later; maybe there are different communities with different interests and ideas for the Metaverse. I don’t think thats a problem. In fact it’s healthy but I would argue it means people need to be much clearer on where they sit on the spectrum so things aren’t conflated and the range of opinions are more effectively heard.

Background Context

After doing more research into both people, and their relationships with Facebook, it’s important to share this upfront as context. Matthew is ex Amazon and now runs a NYSE listed Metaverse index called $META with equity stocks for what you might describe as the Corporate Metaverse (inc. 5% of FB Meta, its 5th highest weighting) and Gary Vee was an early investor in Facebook the company amongst several other Web 2 social media platforms.

Now in the case of Matthew is it bad or unexpected that if you had an equities index on ‘the Metaverse’ you would have FB Meta in it, of course not. Depending on your definition and thesis on the Metaverse of course. But given $META undoubtably profited from a positive representation of the FB Meta rebrand I think is important context.

Interview Analysis

TBH at this stage I believe its only worth focusing on Matthew Ball’s interview because to be quite frank Gary Vee’s, a person I fundamentally like and respect, was a without doubt a complete circle jerk and because of his constant interruption of Zuck meant there was no real opportunity to go deeply into his thinking.

On the flip side it must be acknowledged Zuck was actually the one, in theory, interviewing Matthew (presumably by design of Facebook PR) but it was very much framed as a two way discussion about ‘the philosophy of the Metaverse’.

In subsequent tweets Matthew claimed he had little warning or context about Meta prior to the interview (presumably inferring he had little time to prepare) yet it was mentioned multiple times in the interview by Zuck himself that they had spoken on several occasions prior and that Mathews frameworks for the Metaverse informed a lot of his thinking.

A clip where Mark references previous conversations with and advice from Matthew Ball about Meta

So it is reasonable to say there is history between Zuck and Matthew and it would probably be helpful to understand if Matthew has ever engaged in paid consultancy with Facebook (in any capacity over the last several years) as a point of clarification. If for nothing but to rule it out.

Now to the content itself. I personally felt there were many points in the interview where Matthew could have / should have asked what I think any journalist would have and I know many people felt the same through the hundreds of comments I received on both Twitter and Linkedin.

Whilst Matthew did ask about the timing of ‘why Meta, why now?’ he did so more from a technological perspective and not in the context of what CNN referred to as its ‘most intense and wide-ranging crisis in the company’s 17-year history’.

A more cynical journalist would almost definitely have asked about the rebrand from an organisational perspective including;

  • Why Meta now when they were facing the biggest leak in its history compromising 533 million Facebook users’ phone numbers and personal data?

As an investor in Facebook via $META it would be impossible Matthew is unaware of these issues. You would reasonably assume he has a greater appreciation of them than even you or I. Especially given his direct line to Zuck himself. However, let’s accept Matthew isn’t a journalist and clearly is a friend and supporter of Facebook but instead focus on what he did ask, the answers he got in return and the rough categorisation of the time spent.

Firstly, Zuck spent the large majority of time talking about ‘Interoperability’ from 3:53 to 18:00 mins in. A subset of which was his bug bear of Apple and their App Store being too restrictive and how that was at odds with Meta’s more open approach to Oculus Apps which will allow ‘side loading’ on other devices like PCs.

Not once did Matthew raise the elephant in the room, which Mark was clearly circling around, which was Apple’s contrasting approach to privacy with its new Apple’s App Tracking Transparency (ATT) features — which cut down the ability to track users on their iPhone by forcing developers to ask for explicit permission which is estimated to be hurting Facebook’s business model of up to the tune of Zuck $10 billion. Apple’s dominance something he even highlighted in a recent blogpost.

Matthew Ball however did raise the following points in one single question. Something he was at great pains to stress to me and was right to say he was the only interview to do so, with the caveat he felt it was clumsy.

  • Data rights

Now he himself said he felt he asked the question ‘poorly’. Which I would agree with but as someone that regularly does media interviews, and knows how hard asking an effective question is, is not something I am going to give anyone a hard time on.

However, the reply he got saw Zuck do several slight of hands which are repetitions of how he chose to address these topics in official Meta promotional launch instead choosing to talk about;

  • Interoperability (again)

So basically Matthew didn’t get a reply at all to;

Data rights, Ownership of your data, Security, Misinformation, Privacy, New Governance Models, Economic models

Something Matthew seemed fine with at the time. There was zero follow up or challenge to the answers Zuck gave. In fact, he himself willingly moved off onto other less controversial topics. And I’m pretty sure thats the last time these words were EVER mentioned in a 54 min interview.

Rough estimate: thats just 8/54 mins = 6.75% of the interview.

So I would come back to the poll and ask Matthew to confront how this looks to the community. And I would suggest he needs to better articulate his position on Facebook Meta as an investor and if he shares any of my concerns about their approach to the Metaverse.

In Summary

  • Is it ok Matthew is friends with Zuck? (sure)

All of these things can be true. But they clearly create serious conflicts. And when put alongside something he himself put down to as a poor interview I would be asking serious questions about Matthew’s credibility as an advocate for the Open Metaverse, if he even identifies with that philosophically, and the importance placed on the sovereignty of the user, their data and wealth and fundamental questions about privacy and the role of centralised platforms.

At 44:10 min he was specifically asked if he had any more questions, he did, but again none that I would have hoped for or things apparently important to him.

In short I’m trying to figure out if the Metaverse I want to see exist is the same as Matthews. They don’t have to be. But I see a big disconnect between where he invests, how he engages with Big Tech like Facebook and his musings about crypto and Web 3.

I close off with this tweet. One not necessarily directed to Matthew but definitely to all the Big Tech companies in his $Meta Index.

For me first and foremost the Metaverse is a ‘meta economy’.

One I believe will come through the permissionless system of crypto

However I also believe it could come in the form of a permissioned Big Tech blockchain with CBDCs (Central Backed Digital Currencies) by default, perhaps in parallel.

I believe that will be sold to users by people like Zuck as ‘safety’. And I think this should be resisted.

I also strongly feel the Metaverse can be a dystopic process of capture and control if we treat it as a far off future rather than something happening here and now.

Learning more about The Open Metaverse

Finally, Facebook Meta or Big Tech ‘Metaverse Washing’ is not a surprise to me. Its something I’ve been predicting since early January of this year and actively warning against.

We wrote a detailed paper and thesis, The Open Metaverse OS, to serve as framework to assess and build for openness at all levels of the stack and how we believe Web 3 technology makes that possible at scale and why we believe thats important.

I am happy to engage in open debate in any channel or format as to any of my challenges or opinions laid out here in this post.

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