When Mark Zuckerberg starts trending, it’s rarely for flattering reasons.
Over the years, the much-mocked Meta CEO has become something of a living meme, a black hole of anti-charisma, who, despite his excessive wealth and influence, just can’t convince the public that he’s a relatable guy.
Whether he’s staring, glassy-eyed, into a camera and talking in circles about “smoked meats,” slathered in an alarming amount of sunscreen, or floating awkwardly in front of a disaster zone via virtual reality, the Facebook founder is often jokingly compared to an AI attempting to be human, a real person who somehow exists on the fringe of the uncanny valley.
Hence, when Zuckerberg released a screenshot of his baby-faced avatar inside Meta’s Horizon Worlds VR platform, i.e., his self-proclaimed “Metaverse,” he immediately unleashed a tsunami of mockery and memes.
And it wasn’t just anonymous memelords – New York Times tech columnist Kevin Roose called Horizon World’s graphics “worse than a 2008 Wii game.” Of course, video game graphics aren’t defined solely by technical flash – it’s the art direction that really makes the difference – and Zuckerberg’s Metaverse boasts a hideously ugly aesthetic, completely devoid of texture, and more importantly, personality.
It wasn’t a great look for a project that Zuckerberg has poured billions of dollars into – why would the masses want to escape into a virtual world that looks as sterile and lifeless as a dental office?
Hence, Zuckerberg seemingly saw the criticism (really, it was impossible to ignore), and posted a response on Instagram, promising that the Metaverse graphics would improve, and even boasting a redesigned avatar, which looked significantly better than the empty-eyed abomination he’d chosen previously. Although, there’s not a lot an artist can do with Zuckerberg’s infamous “lego man” haircut; clearly, money can’t buy taste.
On Instagram, Zuckerberg wrote: “I know the photo I posted earlier this week was pretty basic – it was taken very quickly to celebrate a launch.”
He added that Horizon Worlds’ graphics “are capable of much more” and “improving very quickly.”
The pivot was remarkably speedy, and surely in response to the mass mockery from the public. Amusingly, Zuckerberg’s backpedaling mirrors that of the 2020 Sonic movie, which became a popular meme moments after the first trailer introduced a photo-realistic redesign of Sonic that looked as though the hedgehog had spawned out of a puddle of pure nightmare fuel.
The creators of the film responded to the intense internet backlash, and redesigned Sonic from the ground up; upon release, the aggressively mediocre movie received wide praise from longtime Sonic fans.
It remains to be seen if public opinion can make a Sonic-style reversal in response to Zuckerberg’s new and improved Metaverse, but with all the bad press that Facebook has accumulated over the years, it might take more than a decent avatar to turn the tide.
After all, Facebook has developed a reputation as the most wretched social media platform in existence, despite stiff competition, a place where grandparents become radicalized by Minions memes, a hellish carousel of blurry family photos and cursed comment sections.
Zuckberg’s Metaverse has to engage in an incredible PR campaign to combat the terrible reputation of Facebook and its founder – and it’s not off to a great start.