Imagine a Trump-led metaverse: it may be a dream for some, and a nightmare for most people. The Trump-a-verse could take the most diverse form. It could be a world where the cult of personality of the former president is just everywhere. Imagine colossal statues of Donald Trump akin to those of the Kims in North Korea. Think about entire cities whose map reminds of the profile and yellow hair of Trump. Think about dancing shows where all the performers have the face of – uhm – Donald Trump.

Or, more subtly, imagine living in a metaverse where everything is perfect and well-functioning, and then you are met by a Trump avatar that personally greets you.

– So do you like it here, I mean, this is the greatest place that ever existed and I build it – says Trump.

– Mr. Trump, I…

– And this is like how it could be in the real world if you gave me your vote.

– I don’t know if…

– Wanna play “Assault Capitol Hill” with me? Just punch in this code, we group you with other patriots and we, well, we just attack Capitol Hill over and over again.

Imagine that every person entering the Trump-verse is greeted by his own, personal, bespoke Trump. It would be like the film “Her”, but with Trumo instead of Scarlett Johannson. Maybe it would not work on you (you are reading an “article” here, meaning that your thoughts are quite more elaborate than a tweet), but there are millions of people out there that are more prone to be influenced. To some, having some sort of personal contact with an e-version of Donald Trump could be a life changing experience – or even, the fulfillment of long coveted desires.

Yet, one could never feel too safe. Remember the Patty Hearst story: the heiress of a fortune could be brainwashed to the point of joining a leftist-anarchist organization (that had kidnapped her) and rob banks. In our case, the e-avatars (be those of Trump or any other promoter) may be governed by artificial intelligence, optimizing the behaviour of the e-Trump to the personality of the “client”. E-Trump will know that if you are a banker from Manhattan you will prefer different word choices than those of a Los Angeles actor.

There is more to that. The Metaverse is an environment where the “range of expressions” is vastly larger than those in socials. It is just be about smileys or thumbs up, but includes dancing, jumping, waving and many others. In the future, there will be metaverses scanning your entire, actual body and replicating it with motion tracking.

This means that if you wave your hands or even unnoticeably raise an eyebrow, these movements will possibly be analysed to measure your reactions. As the world of machine learning goes, these reactions will then alter the behavioural algorithm of e-Trump, creating a figure that becomes more and more convincing interaction after interaction. It will respect our “unicity” adapting to it, but will play all possible cards to turn it to its advantage. Does this look like sci-fi? It is already happening: some job interviews are now run with candidates talking to computers scanning their reactions. 

The best part is that after some time you will not even need an e-Trump to have you thinking the way e-Trump wants. The e-Trumps will act like some club PRs and will attract crowds of people thinking alike. If you think about the Marshmello concert on Fortnite and its 10.7 million digital goers, twist it into a global digital Trump speech. The viewers will be exclusively selected Trump supporters, subject to exclusively pro-Trump messages. If anyone manages to infiltrate the speech and try to interrupt it, he will be “digitally tasered” and deleted at point range. Trumpland is no place for Trump-haters.

The metaverse might not be the “diverse” place we think it will. This is not just my imagination: is a consideration strictly based on what happened with socials. The seminal 2011 book by activist Eli Pariser, “The Filter Bubble”, was already detailing this risk: due to algorithms, socials tend to present us almost exclusively with opinions and ideas that mirror our own, convincing us that the world is just a reflection of ourselves. When diversity dies, extremism rises: social algorithms are training us to believe that there is no space for opinions different than ours. The Capitol Hill assault and the spread of exotic antivax movements is the living evidence of the tangibility of such phenomenon.

In another seminal work, “The Net Delusion” by activist Evgeny Morozov – interestingly enough, also published in 2011 – it was postulated that the “freedom” granted by the internet could be exploited by dictatorships in order to promote their political message, or even to exert a more accurate control on the population. All this referred to socials: try to imagine now a metaverse controlled by China.

Broadly speaking, the fact that Chinese social TikTok has 120.8 million users in the US, or 37% of Americans (as by October 2021) doesn’t represent a significant reason of concern for the US regulators. Also the fact that TikTok plans to introduce means of biometric data collection is not provoking any noticeable reaction. Some faint signs of reaction are shown when foreign powers try to interfere with US elections through socials: a great American tradition happening regularly since 2016.

Still, a foreign-controlled metaverse goes beyond these small means of influence. A Chinese company managed to create a social – TikTok – that by the end of 2021 was “the most popular online destination”, surpassing even Google. What if some other Chinese genius is able to deliver a Metaworld that works better than Fortnite, Sandbox or even the new monster that Mark Zuckerberg is breeding?

We should always keep in mind that even if Metaverses live in the highest spheres of the digital world, they still report to some legal, physical entity living in the brick-and-stone world, possibly feeding the pockets of some very real individual with a precise nationality. Morally speaking, a metaverse cannot be better than the country where it comes from – and is the politic’s taks to supervise. Digital anarchy often serves too many hidden interests.

 

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