The metaverse offers a chance to reassess

Looking at the artists who pulled their catalogues from Spotify due to the Joe Rogan podcasts, the most powerful voice is the voice of the content creators, rather than legislators or the platform itself. As artists like Neil Young and others demonstrated, they have the power to influence the platform.

The value of the platform to its subscribers erodes as more and more big names leave. The true value of any platform is its user base; its subscribers. And the headlines about artists’ departures highlights something unsavoury about the platform.

The societal dilemma is then, “who decides what is deemed acceptable? Where does one draw the line on freedom of expression?” Considering the diverseness of content on YouTube, there is always going to be something that probably oversteps the mark, in terms of what is socially acceptable.

But unlike organisations like the BBFC, which certifies film releases or the committee behind PEGI for video games, content producers can host on a platform, independent of external oversight. So long as it is shared extensively and invites plenty of comment and debate, almost anything published on a platform is deemed acceptable. Apart from compliance with copyright, libel and child protection regulations, there seems to be very little filtering of content on the major platforms.

Content creation fueled by publicity

Not only did someone feel it is acceptable to shoot a video of West Ham’s Kurt Zouma kicking his cat, but the fact that the video was posted online illustrates the debasing effect of social media. It is nothing new. The oxygen of publicity has deadly consequences. Take the iconic image by photojournalist Eddie Adams, which shows the moment suspected Viet Cong squad leader, Nguyen Van Lem, was executed. One questions whether the executioner’s decision to pull the trigger was in any way influenced by the camera being pointed at the scene about to unfold.

The platform entrusts content creators to do the right thing. But as the BBC’s recent article on Roboblox shows, it is nearly impossible to prevent people from misusing a platform in ways its designers had never intended. Facebook’s goal was never to spread misinformation and promote online bullying. But just because a platform’s creator may be driven by altruistic motives, does not mean they are best placed to understand the true consequences of their creation.

The Pandora’s Box of user-generated content is now well and truly open. There is no turning back. With freedom of expression comes great responsibility. As the tech sector moves to a metaverse, there is, however, a chance to reboot our relationship with content on the internet.

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