Unpacking The $800 Billion Elephant In The Metaverse

By Namon Freeman

  • Dark-skinned or female NFTs used as metaverse avatars see less demand and are valued less
  • The global metaverse revenue opportunity could approach $800B in 2024

The metaverse as advertised promises a decentralized network of environments leveraging blockchain technology to overcome the limitations of the physical world. Yet, many skeptics believe the metaverse and underpinning cryptocurrencies are a farce only conceived to make a select minority rich. Either way, the metaverse is set to become embedded in every industry, from gaming, to fashion, to real estate. A construct of contemporary society, the global metaverse revenue opportunity could approach $800 billion in 2024, and left unchecked it will adopt whiteness as the societal default

Why This Matters: The algorithms that run our favorite social platforms have already adopted this default; Meta, formally known as Facebook (FB -0.33%), its ‘hate speech’ algorithms have disproportionately and often incorrectly flagged Black and female users’ content or comments. Artificial Intelligence systems are also than 30x more likely to confuse dark-skinned women than light-skinned men. Further, to circumvent regulations around targeted advertising, the same companies have adopted race proxies further perpetuating existing stereotypes. 

Many of the same biases that plague today’s internet have already filtered into Web3, an idea for a new iteration of the World Wide Web based on blockchains. Non fungible tokens (NFTs) often take the shape of avatars that represent a person across digital environments. Some avatars like those created by CryptoPunks are a sort of status symbol within the metaverse selling for as much as $11.7 million. Like high fashion these avatars derive their value through association, branding, and scarcity. 

Dark-skin and female avatars have been significantly undervalued compared to their light-skinned or male counterparts. Undervalued does not equate to cheap, many of these avatars still go for the equivalent of several thousands of dollars, a material barrier. Fewer Black people or women are actively engaged in the metaverse, this likely means less demand and lesser values for their likeness, at least for now. 

What’s Next: Yes, the early white and male inhabitants of the metaverse brought their privileges with them. But, increasing the number of women and people of color active in the metaverse may soften the impact of inherent biases and there is reason to be optimistic. Cryptocurrency adoption in Africa has grown to $1,200% to $105 billion in the past year. Several countries across the ‘Global South’ are considering adoption of Central Bank Digital Currencies or existing crypto currencies as legal tender. Moving forward it’s clear the metaverse needs guardrails that level the playing field; investments in infrastructure that make it more accessible, and account for disparities in wealth and time. 

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