(Bloomberg) — Supply Lines is a daily newsletter that tracks trade and supply chains disrupted by the pandemic. Sign up here, and subscribe to our Covid-19 podcast for the latest news and analysis.The blockage of the Suez Canal is wreaking havoc on global seaborne trade, raising the prospects of higher inflation with more ships ferrying cargoes and commodities forced to divert.A special dredger has been deployed to free the vessel that has been stuck in the key waterway for days. Natural gas prices have increased and food supply chains may be affected if the blockage persists. Mark Ma, owner of China-based Seabay International Freight Forwarding Ltd., which has 20 to 30 containers waiting to cross the blocked canal, said that if traffic doesn’t resume in a week, “it will be horrible.”Two additional tugs will arrive at the Suez Canal by Sunday to assist in the refloating of the ship, Bernhard Schulte Shipmanagement, technical manager for the vessel, said in a statement on Friday.Efforts to Dislodge Suez Canal Ship Said to Need at Least a WeekThe pile-up of ships is creating another setback for global supply chains already strained by the e-commerce boom linked to the pandemic. About 12% of global trade transits the canal that’s so strategic world powers have fought over it. On Friday, the Biden administration raised concerns about the impact on global energy markets.Key Highlights:Two more tugs will arrive at the Ever Given by Sunday, ship management company says in statementOil tanker diverts; several ships in Indian Ocean that were bound for Suez change courseFood supply chain faces risksThe containership could be carrying almost $1 billion of cargo, IHS saysWork to dislodge the ship will take until at least middle of next weekAlmost 300 vessels have queued up, compared with 238 on Thursday, according to Bloomberg dataWhy the Suez Canal is so important: QuickTakeQatar Airways Gets Air Freight Queries (6 a.m. London)Qatar Airways, one of the world’s largest cargo airlines, said shippers stuck in the canal were sending queries as a precautionary measure. The airline expects “to see firmer interest in the coming days if the situation remains the same,” a spokesperson for the company said in response to questions from Bloomberg.Timing Couldn’t be Worse, Moody’s SaysThe canal’s temporary closure might affect 10%-15% of world container throughput, Moody’s Investors Service estimated earlier this week. Under normal circumstances, the temporary delays in global supply chains would not be a “big issue,” it said. However, a global shortage in container capacity and low service reliability has made supply chains highly vulnerable to external shocks despite high consumer demand, its analysts said.“The timing of this event could not have been worse,” analysts including Daniel Harlid wrote in a March 25 report.Insurers May Be on Hook for Millions (12:42 a.m. London)There were potentially thousands of insurance policies taken out on the steel boxes stacked high on Ever Given. They could result in millions of dollars in payouts.The blockage is set to unleash a flood of claims by everyone affected, from those in the shipping industry to those in the commodities business. Read the story here.Refloat Efforts Suspended (11:25 p.m. London)The salvage team suspended the re-floating operation at midnight local time, according to Inchcape Shipping Services, a maritime services provider.The dredger will continue working and the next re-floating attempt will be made at 2 p.m. local time Saturday with the high tide.Ship’s Rear Isn’t ‘Fully Stuck’ (10:52 p.m. London)“We have done a full inspection, and the positive news is that the rear end of the ship isn’t fully stuck in the clay,” said Peter Berdowski, chief executive officer of Boskalis Westminster, the parent company of the elite salvage team.He spoke in an interview on the Nieuwsuur TV program in the Netherlands.“With the two big tugboats that are underway, combined with the dredging, we hope that will be sufficient to get the ship afloat somewhere next week,” he said.Tides are expected to swell Monday night and Tuesday night and into the early hours of Wednesday.If the ship isn’t refloated then, the salvage team will move to “plan B,” which will involve lifting containers off the vessel, he said.“We will start taking containers from the ship anyway this weekend.”Biden Says U.S. Looking to Help (10:22 p.m. London)The U.S. is looking into how it can help to unblock the canal, President Joe Biden said.“We have equipment and capacity that most countries don’t have. And we’re seeing what help we can be,” Biden said.Sea-Doo Maker Pivots to Planes (9 p.m. London)Sea-Doo maker BRP Inc. has parts from Asian suppliers stuck on vessels jammed in the blockage.The situation prompted the Canadian maker of recreational vehicles to shift to its backup plan: flying another batch of components from Asia to its North American plants.“It’s more expensive, but it’s better than stopping assembly lines,” BRP Chief Executive Officer Jose Boisjoli said Friday in a phone interview.Ever Given Was Refloated From Stern (8:42 p.m. London)The elite salvage team working with the Suez Canal Authority was able to float the vessel from its “stern/aft” and released the rudder at approximately 9 p.m. local time, according to Inchcape Shipping Services, a maritime services provider.Another effort will take place using the high tide, with the hope of refloating the vessel entirely.Canal Authority Says Tug Operations Restart (7:54 p.m. London)Pulling operations with tug boats to free the ship restarted after dredging operations were completed, the Suez Canal Authority said on its Facebook page.‘Perfect Storm’ Brewing for Italy’s Ports (7:07 p.m. London)Once the Suez blockage ends, the huge backlog of ships will create a traffic jam for ports on the Mediterranean.“When traffic will flow again, ships will flood Italian ports,” said Daniele Rossi, chief of Italian ports association (Assoporti). Operational difficulties will make that difficult to “cope” with, he said.“The perfect storm is coming.”About 40% of Italian imports and exports pass through the Suez Canal, according to Assoporti/SRM research on Italian maritime economy.Logjam Nears 300 Ships (6:16 p.m. London)About 293 ships ranging from livestock carriers to liquefied natural gas tankers are waiting to transit the clogged waterway, compared with 238 on Thursday, shipping data compiled by Bloomberg show.White House Sees Energy Impacts (5:17 p.m. London)The White House is concerned about the impact on global energy, said Press Secretary Jen Psaki, who added that the Biden administration is monitoring market conditions.“We do see some potential impacts on energy markets,” she told reporters at a briefing on Friday.Earlier, a spokesman for the White House National Security Council said the U.S. government had offered Egypt assistance removing the grounded ship, the Ever Given.Wind Turbine Projects Seen Delayed (4 p.m. London)Germany’s Enercon expects delays in wind turbine components from Europe to projects in Asia, according to a company spokesperson. The wind turbine maker also sees risks of congestion at ports, once the ships held up at the Suez Canal arrive at their destinations. Enercon is examining to what extent the problem will affect its supply chains.North Sea Crude Loading Delays Likely (3:28 p.m. London)At least seven supertankers are expected to load North Sea crude in April, with two or three of them likely to face delays due to the blockage in the Suez Canal, according to tanker fixture reports and ship tracking data compiled by Bloomberg.Tanker Shares Surge (3:10 p.m. London)With diversions starting to pop up, the shares of oil tanker companies surged. Frontline Ltd. rose as much as 11% in Oslo, the biggest intraday gain since September. Other owners were jumping too: Euronav NV climbed as much as 7%, while DHT Holdings Inc. was also up 7%, and International Seaways Inc. added as much as 6.4%. It comes as the prospect of ships taking the longer route around the southern tip of Africa raises the chances for higher earnings for ships.British Retailers Say Impact Manageable (3:21 p.m. London)Dixons Carphone Plc has a small number of containers on the grounded Ever Given vessel but “we don’t believe this will cause any meaningful disruption to our stock levels,” the company said in an emailed statement. While some U.K. grocers are reporting small quantities of stock stuck both on the Ever Given and some container ships behind it, the products are mostly general merchandise and clothing which is less time-sensitive as perishable food items.Tug Boats Get Ready to Try and Tow Ever Given (2.22 p.m. London)Tug boats are tying themselves up to the Ever Given in order to attempt to tow the container ship, according to Inchcape Shipping Services, a maritime services provider. Suez Canal Authority dredgers were earlier being used to clear away sand, the firm said.Multiple Ships in Indian Ocean Take Detour (1:58 p.m. London)Several ships in the Indian Ocean, initially bound for the Suez Canal, have changed course away from the waterway after it became blocked, according to vessel-tracking data compiled by Bloomberg. The vessels include container ships Ever Greet, HMM Stockholm and OOCL United Kingdom; vehicle carrier Morning Calm; and cargo ship Angelic.U.S.-Asia Naphtha Arbitrage Opens on Suez Canal Blockage: BNEF (9:55 a.m. New York)The U.S. Gulf Coast-to-East Asia naphtha arbitrage has opened as naphtha shipments from key exporters such as Russia and Algeria delayed by the blockage in the Suez Canal.Oil Tanker for North Sea Loading Delayed a Week (12:59 p.m. London)Supertanker Olympic Lady is expected to reach the North Sea for planned loading around April 26-30, roughly a week’s delay, amid the blockage at the Suez Canal, according to person familiar with the matter. The Very large Crude Carrier was originally set to have used the canal to reach the North Sea for loading around April 20-25.Oil Tanker Rates Rise (12:40 p.m. London)Freight rates have jumped 20% for large oil-product tankers known as LR2s traveling from the Mediterranean in mid-April, according to Torm A/S, one of the largest owners of oil-product tankers in the world.The market is reacting to uncertainty of the duration of the Suez Canal jam, it said. “We are giving several pricing options to go via South Africa,” the company said.A handful of Torm vessels are scheduled to pass through the Suez Canal, and it is talks with customers about whether to divert them.Economists Predict Inflation Pressure (12:19 p.m. London)The blockage adds to supply-chain disruptions that have already cost world trade more than $200 billion since the start of the year, according to Allianz SE calculations. Every week the Suez Canal remains closed adds as much as $10 billion to the bill.Economists predict higher prices as a result.“I’m relatively sanguine about the additional hit to trade,” said Joanna Konings, senior economist at ING. But “with everyone’s tolerance for absorbing higher shipping costs run down, we might see some pass through from this episode. It’s an inflationary shock that could come right to the consumer.”Oil Tanker Diverts, May Be First to Do So (11:50 a.m. London)The oil tanker Marlin Santorini, a 1 million-barrel capacity Suezmax, switched destinations away from the Suez Canal, according to tanker tracking data compiled by Bloomberg.The vessel had been sailing east in the Atlantic Ocean toward the Mediterranean Sea, signaling Port Said at the northern end of the canal. It then turned south and looks to be heading around Africa.Two shipbrokers said they’d seen no other oil tanker diversions to avoid the Suez since the blockage, although multiple other vessel types, including LNG carriers and container ships, have done so.Food Supply Chain Faces Risk (11:44 a.m. London)The Suez blockage may mean limited availability of food, supply delays and higher prices at a time when economies and households are already grappling with rising food inflation and disruptions from Covid-19.Wealthy but food-deficit Gulf states and food aid-dependent Horn of Africa nations are particularly vulnerable to disturbances to grain flows. The canal handles at least 15% of global rice and wheat exports, according to research from Chatham House.“If it’s a delay of a month or longer it will put on a significant price pressure and reduce availability in some places,” Tim Benton, research director in emerging risks at Chatham House in London and a food security expert, said in an interview. “There are lots of compounding issues. The global food system is already under pressure from Covid. And clearly anything that adds a further straw to the camel’s back makes things bad.”Japan’s Oil Supply Won’t be Affected (11:40 a.m. London)The Suez canal blockage won’t immediately impact Japan’s crude supplies, Finance Minister Taro Aso told reporters in Tokyo.“Unlike in the past, Japan currently has enough of an oil stockpile for around 200 days, so I don’t think this issue will immediately impact Japan’s oil supplies,” Aso said.Russian Wheat Flows Largely Unaffected (11:35 a.m. London)The blockage isn’t causing major problems for Russian grain exports because sales of wheat from the world’s top shipper are currently low, said Eduard Zernin, chairman of the Russian Union of Grain Exporters. There’s no sign yet of any significant Russian sales being caught up in the queue, he said.Elsewhere in the Black Sea region, Ukraine’s deputy economy minister and the head of the country’s grain group, which includes the top shippers, said they don’t see any threats to the nation’s exports if the situation is resolved soon.Europe Natural Gas Prices Rise (11:15 a.m. London)The prospect of the container vessel blocking the Suez Canal for up to a week boosted European natural gas prices as cargoes laden with fuel destined for the region face severe delays. The blockage may create a supply gap that could be filled by pipeline gas from Russia or U.S. LNG. Benchmark Dutch and U.K. gas for next month both jumped on Friday.Three tankers near the canal’s entry will struggle to deliver LNG from Qatar for scheduled arrivals in early April. Vessels that are already waiting are unlikely to turn around at this stage, said Fauziah Marzuki, an analyst at BloombergNEF.Dredger Deployed in Effort to Refloat Ship (10:35 p.m. London)A specialized dredger has been deployed in efforts to dislodge the stuck ship. The Mashhour has completed 87% of its targeted work of that’s removing sand surrounding the vessel, displacing 17,000 cubic meters of material per hour. It started operations 100 meters from the stuck ship on Thursday and can get as close as 10 meters.The Ever Given will start to be pulled once the dredging operations are completed.Ever Given Owner Plans to Float Vessel Saturday (10:19 a.m. LondonJapan’s Shoei Kisen Kaisha Ltd., which owns the stricken Ever Given, aims to refloat the ship Saturday night Tokyo time, according to a company spokeswoman. Attempts to free the ship with 10 tugboats have failed so far, and the company plans to use two additional ships to help with the effort, the Nikkei reported, citing company officials at a briefing.The company said earlier this week that it was working with local authorities and ship manager Bernhard Schulte Shipmanagement to refloat the vessel but the situation is “extremely difficult.”Ikea Supply Chain May be Affected (10:13 a.m. London)Swedish furniture giant Ikea has confirmed there are containers with its products on ships that are waiting to make passage via the Suez Canal.“Depending on how this work proceeds and how long it takes to finish the operation, it may create constraints on our supply chain,” a spokesman for Inter Ikea Systems, the franchisor of the Ikea brand, told Bloomberg.Ikea said it’s now considering all supply options to help secure the availability of its products.Ever Given Could Have Almost $1 Billion Cargo, IHS Says (9:20 a.m. London)The total cargo value of a containership the size of the Ever Given is almost $1 billion, considering average value of products in an ocean container of about $40,000, according to IHS Markit.In the seven days since the Ever Given ran aground on Tuesday, 49 container ships carrying an estimated 400,000 TEU were set to pass through the Suez Canal in both directions, the consultant said.About 51 million container tons normally pass through the Suez every month, according to a Bernstein report Friday. With passage blocked, the volume of stuck containers would amount to over 200,000 18-ton trucks worth, the equivalent of a traffic jam from Chicago to El Paso. Adding in tankers and other ships, that jam would double, they wrote.Once the backlog starts clearing, it will overwhelm terminals in Europe, which are experiencing labor shortages because of Covid-19, said Greg Knowler, senior European editor at JOC by IHS Markit.“Rotterdam and Antwerp expect ship wait times to lengthen, and expect it will take longer to handle ships and clear containers from the yards, and businesses will have to wait longer for their imports,” Knowler said.Refloat Efforts Resume, Inchcape Says (6:00 a.m. London)Operations to refloat the Ever Given using tugs and dredgers resumed at 7am local time, according to Inchcape, a maritime services provider.At Least 12 U.S. Grain Shipments Impacted (2:48 p.m. HK)The congestion in the Suez Canal may delay nearly 7% of seaborne U.S. major grain shipments, according to USDA and vessel data analyzed by Bloomberg.Since the Bellatrix left Zen-Noh’s grain export elevator on the Mississippi River in late February, just 12 of 184 bulk carriers and general cargo ships have opted to take the Suez route, as many vessels take the Panama Canal and the route around South Africa to access Asia.More than 80% of the impacted grain shipments are corn, with close to 60% of them on six vessels headed to China. At least one ship, the Ledra, hauling corn to Vietnam, recently diverted toward the route around South Africa.HMM-Chartered Ship Diverts Around Africa (2:47 p.m. HK)The Hyundai Prestige container ship is detouring around the Cape of Good Hope to avoid gridlock in the Suez Canal, the vessel’s South Korean charterer HMM Co. said.The ship departed from Southampton, U.K., on Monday and has been told to go around Africa, a spokesman for HMM said. The vessel isn’t part of a scheduled service after its temporary deployment in January to help South Korea exporters, and is scheduled to reach Thailand’s Laem Chabang by late April.Cheap LNG Shipping Rates Ease Detour Pain (12:37 p.m. HK)Liquefied natural gas suppliers are beginning to send shipments around Africa, a journey that takes more time but — given current charter rates — isn’t that costly. Unlike oil tanker rates, prices for shipping LNG have remained subdued amid the crisis in Suez. A shift to milder temperatures in Europe and Asia has reduced gas demand, also curbing needs for tankers that ferry the fuel.At least seven LNG vessels have diverted away from their intended paths through the Suez Canal due to its continued blockage, according to Kpler analyst Rebecca Chia. At least two shipments from the U.S. headed to Asia have changed course in the Atlantic toward South Africa, according to Bloomberg ship-tracking data.Seabay Owner Says Week’s Delay Will Be ‘Horrible’ (12:23 p.m. HK)Mark Ma, owner of Seabay International Freight Forwarding Ltd., a company in Shenzhen that handles Chinese goods sold on platforms such as Amazon.com Inc., said his company has 20 to 30 containers on the ships waiting to cross the blocked canal.“If it can’t be resumed in a week, it will be horrible,” said Ma. “We will see freight fares spike again. The products are delayed, containers can’t return to China and we can’t deliver more goods.”Detouring ships doesn’t seem like a viable option at the moment, due to risks of taking unfamiliar routes, limited supply to the crew and an extended shipment time. “What if the canal got cleared in 8-10 days? You lose even more time,” said Ma.Crisis Isn’t Deterring Orders for Mega Ships (12:08 p.m. HK)The container ship blocking the Suez Canal has done little to deter shipping companies from ordering similarly mega-sized vessels. Korea Shipbuilding & Offshore Engineering Co.and Samsung Heavy Industries Co. — two of the world’s three biggest shipbuilders — announced they’d won orders worth a combined 3.45 trillion won ($3 billion) on Friday to build 25 container vessels that are all longer than the Eiffel Tower.Orders for mega-big ships have been increasing since this year after the lines saw their profits jump in 2020.Backlog of Vessels Will Take Days to Clear (9:19 a.m. HK)Even if the Ever Given sails away immediately, there’s a backlog of about 200 vessels of all types that will take days to clear, leading to an ever-increasing pile-up, according to Arthur Richier, a senior freight analyst at Vortexa. That’s assuming an average transit of 50 vessels a day via the canal.Egyptian authorities appear to want to wait until Monday for a higher tide to try and tow the vessel away, indicating that the most realistic return to normal for vessel traffic will only happen in a minimum of 10 days, Richier said.Ships in Red Sea Seen Leaving if Crisis Lasts 2 Weeks (9:12 a.m. HK)Ships in the Red Sea will be rerouted only if there is an extended delay in unblocking the Suez Canal, according to Randy Giveans, senior vice president of equity research for energy maritime at Jefferies LLC.So far, only ships outside the Red Sea that were hoping to use the canal are rerouting around the Cape of Good Hope. For vessels already in the area, it would only make a difference if the canal outage was certain to be over two weeks, since that’s how much additional time they would need to get around the Cape.Heavy-Lift Helicopters May Be Needed to Unload Containers (8:50 a.m. HK)The failed attempts to move the Ever Given are increasing the odds that heavy-lift helicopters may be needed to unburden it of at least part of its load of 500 containers, according to Nick Sloane, the salvage master responsible for re-floating the Costa Concordia, which capsized off Italy in 2012.The so-called sky-crane helicopters, able to lift a load of 25,000 pounds, and Russian MI-26 helicopters would be the only ones able to perform the task. The challenge is to find these helicopters and transport them to the site.There aren’t many of those that are privately owned, said Keith Sailor, director of commercial operations at Aurora, Oregon-based Columbia Helicopters Inc., a company that operates a fleet of heavy-lift helicopters. “If you can’t find one in the region, you’d need to fly one over there in an Antonov cargo plane,” he said. That could take five to eight days.Canal Traffic Jam Has Doubled to 238 Ships (5:37 p.m. London)The number of ships waiting to enter the Suez Canal is growing as the waterway remains blocked.Data compiled by Bloomberg shows there were 238 vessels queued up Thursday, compared with 186 counted on Wednesday and around 100 at the start of the blockage.Not Much Room to Maneuver (3:39 p.m. London)It’s no wonder the stuck Ever Given in the Suez Canal is creating such a headache.The key trade route is narrow — less than 675 feet wide (205 meters) in some places — and can be difficult to navigate. Work to re-float the giant container ship — about a quarter mile long (400 meters) — and allow passage for oceangoing carriers hauling almost $10 billion of everything from commodities to consumer goods continued without success on Thursday in Egypt.The blockage highlights a major risk faced by the shipping industry as more and more vessels, which are getting bigger and bigger, transit maritime choke points including the Suez, Panama Canal and the Strait of Hormuz.For more articles like this, please visit us at bloomberg.comSubscribe now to stay ahead with the most trusted business news source.©2021 Bloomberg L.P.
POV: Facebook’s Change to Meta Blurs Lines Even Further
COM’s Michelle Amazeen worries if people will know the difference between real-world and virtual experiences
When Facebook announced it was changing its name to Meta in October, the 2008 Pixar movie WALL-E was the first thing that came to my mind. The sci-fi movie is about a robot left on an uninhabitable Earth to clean up the garbage left behind by humans. Rampant consumerism and corporate greed have left Earth a wasteland, and humans have been evacuated to outer space. In this same way, I envision Facebook abandoning the real world for the virtual “metaverse”—shared online environments where people can interact. They leave behind unimaginable quantities of disinformation, amplified by their algorithms, along with harassment, hate speech, and angry partisans.
To move beyond my initial reaction and gain more insight into the implications of Facebook’s name change (and strategic plans) from a communication research perspective, I turned to two research fellows who study emerging media within the Communication Research Center (CRC) at Boston University’s College of Communication (COM).
Media psychologist James Cummings, a COM assistant professor of emerging media studies, indicates that a metaverse—if successful—would produce new issues in information processing and would place a new emphasis on theories of interpersonal communication—rather than just mass communication. As I feared, he also says it has the potential to augment existing media effects of concern related to social networking, namely misinformation, persuasion, addiction, and distraction.
First, Cummings explains there would be major implications for how billions of people select, process, and are influenced by media content. To be successful, the metaverse platforms will need to transform current modes of information processing and digital communication interactions into much more immersive, cognitively absorbing experiences.
“For instance,” he says, “the mainstreaming of consumer-facing immersive ‘virtual reality’ [VR]—which typically places high demands on users’ processing—will be coming in an age of media multitasking. Interfaces will need to figure out how to immerse users while still permitting them to access different information streams.”
Similarly, he says, mainstreaming “augmented reality” (AR) experiences will also mean requiring users to skillfully juggle attentional demands. People will suddenly be forced to multitask between virtual and real-world stimuli. These are common practices for hobbyists, but may present more challenges for a broader population of users.
Thus, Cummings suggests, if the metaverse is the ecosystem of devices and experiences that Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg envisions, users will be switching back and forth between different types of immersive experiences and stimuli, from reality to augmented reality to virtual reality. This scenario may present some new and interesting psychological experiences, in the effects of in-person (e.g., chatting with a friend in the same room), mediated (e.g., reading a news alert on your phone), and augmented messages (e.g., a holographic personal assistant)—all interdependent and blurring together.
Second, Cummings expects that a successful metaverse would mean exchanges with virtual content and people that are much more like face-to-face or interpersonal interactions. “This will require the designers of these platforms to master key elements of media richness theory and factors influencing users’ sense of spatial and social presence,” he explains. For instance, social networking in the metaverse may not only consist of the informational experiences we are used to today (e.g., reading text, watching videos, viewing pictures), but increasingly also perceptual experiences (e.g., a sense of being transported into the story, a feeling of being next to someone on the other side of the globe, noticing nonverbal behaviors).
Finally, Cummings indicates that immersive media are rife for a whole new breed of covert persuasion—such as “native advertising,” or ads that mimic their surroundings—to the extent that users confuse the perceptually plausible with the real. He’s particularly interested in seeing the impact of immersion on users’ perceptions of message authorship and authorial intent.
Indeed, back in the real world, native advertising has been widely adopted to covertly promote not only commercial products, but also political candidates. Candidates are increasingly relying upon “influencers” to post supportive messages on Facebook and other social media without consistently disclosing they are being paid to do so, blurring the critical line between what is real news and what is merely paid advertising. As I have previously addressed here, if the regulatory agencies that oversee advertising—both commercial and political—have not been able to keep up with the digital transformation of our media ecosystem, how will they be able to regulate the metaverse?
For Chris Wells, a COM associate professor of emerging media studies, the promise and pitfalls of the metaverse depend entirely on how Facebook rolls it out. For example, the radical network effects we see from social media rely to some degree on the extremely shortened forms of communication—short texts and short videos—that allow information scanning and selection on a very rapid scale. He indicates the pseudo-social presence of virtual reality would seem to reduce the number of people you can actually interact with. “How will the metaverse be organized and who will you be able to interact with?” Wells asks. Are people going to have coffee virtually? Virtual meetings? He suggests that a site such as Second Life may offer rudimentary evidence of the kinds of interactions that emerge when people engage with strangers in a massive virtual world.
Presumably, Wells suggests, Facebook will still have to provide a great deal of content moderation in the metaverse if people are to have any interactions outside tightly defined networks. “Given Facebook’s track record with their current platform,” he says, “this could well be an unmitigated disaster; but expecting this may lead them to tightly control who interacts with whom and in what ways.”
Second Life notwithstanding, Wells also questions who will actually want to engage in such a virtual space. “My read of the pandemic is that people don’t particularly want to keep sitting in their bedrooms and interacting through Zoom,” he says.
“Will wearing an Oculus headset make that a lot better? I’m not sure,” he adds. “But I also suspect that there are at least a lot of people for whom going to a virtual concert or playing virtual chess with a friend in the park are paltry substitutes for the real thing.”
Wells concedes that there are a lot of millennials and Gen Zs who spend a lot of time in their bedrooms on video games, with digital avatars, and so forth. One possibility, he says, is that the metaverse becomes a niche space for these sorts of folks.
As these metaverse developments take shape, CRC fellows are well positioned to monitor these emerging media uses and perceptual effects. The CRC has multiple Oculus virtual reality headsets that can be paired with our psychophysiological measurement tools. For as technology takes us to new realms, we have a responsibility back in reality to analyze and understand how humans are affected.
Michelle Amazeen is a College of Communication associate professor and director of COM’s Communication Research Center.
“POV” is an opinion page that provides timely commentaries from students, faculty, and staff on a variety of issues: on-campus, local, state, national, or international. Anyone interested in submitting a piece, which should be about 700 words long, should contact John O’Rourke at email@example.com. BU Today reserves the right to reject or edit submissions. The views expressed are solely those of the author and are not intended to represent the views of Boston University.
Facebook’s centralized metaverse a threat to the decentralized ecosystem?
Facebook has been planning its foray into the metaverse for some time now — possibly even several years. But it’s only recently that its ambitious expansion plans have catapulted the concept into mainstream headlines across the globe. Renaming the parent company to Meta was perhaps the biggest, boldest statement of intent the firm could make. Suddenly, major news outlets were awash with explainer articles, while finance websites have been bubbling with excitement about the investment opportunities in this newly emerging sector.
However, within the crypto sphere, the response has been understandably more muted. After all, decentralized versions of the metaverse have been in development around these parts for several years now. Even worse, the tech giants’ cavalier attitude to user privacy and data harvesting has informed many of the most cherished principles in the blockchain and crypto sector.
Nevertheless, metaverse tokens such as Decentraland (MANA) and Sandbox (SAND), enjoyed extensive rallies on the back of the news, and within a few days of Facebook’s announcement, decentralized metaverse project The Sandbox received $93 million in funding from investors, including Softbank.
But now that the dust has settled, do the company-formerly-known-as-Facebook’s plans represent good news for nonfungible token (NFT) and metaverse projects in crypto? Or does Meta have the potential to sink this still-nascent sector?
What is known so far?
Facebook hasn’t released many details about what can be expected from its version of the metaverse. A promotional video featuring the company co-founder and CEO Mark Zuckerberg, himself, along with his metaverse avatar, looked suitably glossy. Even so, it was scant with information about how things will actually work under the hood. However, based on precedent and what is known, some distinctions can be made between what Facebook is likely to be planning and the established decentralized metaverse projects.
Facebook has some form when it comes to questions over whether it will adopt decentralized infrastructure based on its efforts to launch a cryptocurrency. Diem, formerly Libra, is a currency run by a permissioned network of centralized companies. David Marcus, who heads up Diem, has also confirmed that the project, and by extension Facebook, is also considering NFTs integrated with Novi, the Diem-compatible wallet.
Based on all this, it’s fair to say that the Facebook metaverse would have an economy centered around the Diem currency, with NFT-based assets issued on the permissioned Diem network.
Announcing @Meta — the Facebook company’s new name. Meta is helping to build the metaverse, a place where we’ll play and connect in 3D. Welcome to the next chapter of social connection. pic.twitter.com/ywSJPLsCoD
— Meta (@Meta) October 28, 2021
The biggest difference between Facebook’s metaverse, and crypto’s metaverse projects, is that the latter operates on open, permissionless, blockchain architecture. Any developer can come and build a metaverse application on an open blockchain, and any user can acquire their own virtual real estate and engage with virtual assets.
Critically, one of the biggest benefits of a decentralized, open architecture is that users can join and move around barrier-free between different metaverses. Interoperability protocols reduce friction between blockchains, allowing assets, including cryptocurrencies, stablecoins, utility tokens, NFTs, loyalty points, or anything else to be transferable across chains.
So the most crucial question regarding Facebook’s plans is around the extent to which the company plans for its metaverse to be interoperable, and metaverse assets to be fungible with other, non-Facebook issued assets.
From the standpoint of the decentralized metaverse, it doesn’t necessarily sound like great news. After all, Meta’s global user base dwarfs crypto’s. But there’s another way of looking at it, according to Robbie Ferguson, co-founder of Immutable, a layer two platform for NFTs:
“Even if [Meta] decides to pursue a closed ecosystem, it is still a fundamental core admission of the value that digital ownership provides — and the fact that the most valuable battleground of the future will be who owns the infrastructure of digital universes.”
Centralization could be the most limiting factor
Based on the fact that Diem is already a closed system, it seems likely that the Facebook metaverse will also be a closed ecosystem that won’t necessarily allow direct or easy interaction with decentralized metaverses. Such a “walled garden” approach would suit the company’s monopolistic tendencies but limit the potential for growth or Facebook-issued NFTs to attain any real-world value.
Furthermore, as Nick Rose Ntertsas CEO and founder of an NFT marketplace Ethernity Chain pointed out, users are becoming weary of Facebook’s centralized dominance. He added in a conversation with Cointelegraph:
“Amidst [the pandemic-fuelled digital] transition, crypto adoption rose five-fold. At the same time, public opinion polling worldwide shows growing distrust of centralized tech platforms, and more favorable ratings of the very nature of what crypto and blockchain offer in protecting privacy, enabling peer-to-peer transactions, and championing transparency and immutability.”
This point is even more pertinent when considering that the utility of Diem has been preemptively limited by regulators before it has even launched. Regardless of how Diem could eventually be used in a Facebook metaverse, regulators have made it clear that Diem isn’t welcome in the established financial system.
So it seems evident that a closed Facebook metaverse will be limited to the point that it will be a completely different value proposition to what the decentralized metaverse projects are trying to achieve.
Meanwhile, decentralized digital platforms are already building and thriving. Does that mean there’s a risk that blockchain-based platforms could fall prey to the same fate as Instagram and WhatsApp, and get swallowed up as part of a Meta acquisition spree? Sebastien Borget, co-founder and chief operating officer of the Sandbox, believes that decentralized projects can take a different approach:
“Typically, big tech sits on the sidelines while new entrants fight for relevance and market share — and then swoops in to buy one of the strongest players. But that strategy only works if startups sell. So there has to be a different economic incentive, which is exactly why Web 3.0 is so powerful. It aligns the platform and the users to build a platform that stands on its own, where users have ownership over its governance — and ultimate success.”
A metaverse operated by tech giants?
Rather than attempting to dominate, Facebook may decide to integrate with established metaverses, games and crypto financial protocols — a potentially far more disruptive scenario. It could be seriously transformative for the crypto space, given the scale of Facebook’s user base.
Therefore, could there be a scenario where someone can move NFT assets between a Facebook metaverse and a decentralized network of metaverses? Sell Facebook-issued NFT assets on a DEX? Import a $69 billion Beeple to the Facebook metaverse to exhibit in a virtual gallery?
This seems to be an unlikely scenario as it would entail substantial changes in mindset from Facebook. While it would create exponentially more economic opportunity, regulatory concerns, risk assessments, and Facebook’s historical attitude to consuming competitors rather than playing alongside them are likely to be significant blockers.
The most likely outcome seems to be that Facebook will attempt to play with established centralized tech and finance firms to bring value into its metaverse. Microsoft has already announced its own foray into the metaverse, but perhaps not as a direct competitor to what Facebook is attempting to achieve. Microsoft’s metaverse is focused on enhancing the “Teams” experience in comparison to Facebook’s VR-centric approach.
But it seems more plausible that the two firms would offer some kind of integration between their metaverse platforms than either of them would rush to partner with decentralized, open-source competitors. After all, Facebook’s original attempt to launch Libra involved other big tech and finance firms.
Make hay while the sun shines
Just as Libra created a lot of hype, which ultimately became muted by regulators, it seems likely that the development of a Facebook metaverse can play out in the same way with regards to its impact on the cryptocurrency sector.
Regulators will limit Facebook’s ability to get involved with money or finance, and the company isn’t likely to develop a sudden desire for open-source, decentralized, solutions.
However, the one positive boost that Libra brought to crypto was publicity. Ntertsas believes that this, alone, is enough to provide a boost to the decentralized NFT sector, explaining:
“Meta’s plans will enable a surge in utility for NFT issuers and minters. NFTs can then be used as metaverse goods — from wearables to art, to collectibles, and even status symbols — there is an infinite use case and utility to NFTs and what they can become in the ever-growing NFT ecosystem.”
In this respect, there are plenty of opportunities for decentralized metaverse projects to muscle into the limelight with their own offerings and showcase how decentralized solutions are already delivering what Facebook is still developing. Borget urges the community to seize the moment:
“Now is the time for us to double down on building our vision of the open, decentralized and user-driven metaverse. We also have to invest time and money in explaining the benefits of our vision over what the Facebooks of the world have offered thus far.”
Facebook hackers target small business owners to scam money for ads
It took just 15 minutes for hackers to infiltrate Sydney single mum Sarah McTaggart’s Facebook page.
From there, they also took control of the account she uses to run her small business, wiping out 90 percent of the client base she has been building up for the past four years – almost in an instant.
Their target? The PayPal account she uses to buy Facebook ads for her business.
Ms McTaggart is among many small business owners who say they have had their Facebook pages hacked and fraudulent charges made on their PayPal or bank accounts as the scammers buy up ads with their money.
It was last Thursday evening when Ms McTaggart first noticed something was happening with her Facebook account.
“I was just watching TV and I opened up Facebook. I saw I had received and accepted a friend request from some guy in in the US who I didn’t send a friend request to,” Ms McTaggart said.
“Then, about five minutes later, Facebook sent me an email saying my account had been disabled because I had breached community standards,” she said.
The hackers had used a well-known technique, previously reported on by 9news.com.au, which involves changing the profile picture of the account they have hacked to that of a flag associated with the terrorist group ISIS.
The ISIS flag breaches Facebook’s community standards and automatically triggers an alert which causes Facebook to boot the user out of their account.
In another measure designed to keep her out, the hackers also changed Ms McTaggart’s age on her account, making her too young to own a Facebook account.
Ms McTaggart said she immediately took measures to to try report the hack to Facebook and prove her identity and age, but they were unsuccessful.
Next, the hackers took control of her business page.
“I woke up the next morning and I received an email from PayPal saying a payment of $320 had been authorised for Facebook ads,” Ms McTaggart said.
Ms McTaggart had previously used the PayPal account to buy ads for her dreadlock business – Better Off Dread – where she creates and maintains dreadlocks for clients as well as selling accessories.
The mother-of-one said she was devastated to lose access to both her personal and business page.
Her business, which is largely run out of Facebook, was her livelihood, Ms McTaggart said.
“It is so distressing. Close to 90 percent of my new business inquiries come through Facebook,” she said.
“Almost all of my communications with my clients is on Facebook, so disabling is my account has completely cut off my capacity to talk to any of those people.
“I’m booked out with clients until mid-January, and I have no way of confirming appointments with those people. They’ve got no way of cancelling if they are sick.”
Ms McTaggart said she was initially confident she would be able to get access to her accounts back.
“I was thinking of course this will get resolved,” she said.
But, after exhausting all of the suggestions offered by Facebook’s customer service department online, Ms McTaggart said she was left frustrated by Facebook’s lack of accountability, with no number available to call the social media giant directly.
“It just dawned on me gradually that this was quite a complex situation, and there is actually no way to speak to a human at Facebook,” she said.
PayPal had also refused to refund the $320 the hackers spent on ads, she said.
“PayPal won’t refund that as I had an advertising agreement in place with Facebook,” she said.
“And I haven’t been able to communicate with anyone at Facebook to get them to refund it.”
Ms McTaggart’s story is familiar to Ianni Nicolaou, a US real estate agent from Alabama.
Mr Nicolaou had his personal Facebook page and his business page hacked two months ago in August and has been unable to regain access to them both ever since.
“It’s awful. I’m a realtor and it’s absolutely necessary to use the platform these days,” Mr Nicolaou told 9News .com.au.
“I have a business page that I run advertisements through.
“I have invested money for my following, and now it’s gone – out of nowhere.”
After his accounts were hacked, Mr Nicolaou said he had also been hit with about A$1800 in charges made to the bank account linked to his Facebook business page.
“There were charges; charges after charges. They started at about $100 each and then kept getting bigger and bigger,” he said.
“What frustrated me the most is that there is no acknowledgement from Facebook. There is no-one to call at Facebook and say you have got fraudulent charges.
“I have literally tried everything but it is robots you are talking to.
“The way I feel is this is actually fraud. I can’t talk to a human who wants to help me but they are happy to take my money just fine.”
When contacted by 9news.com.au, Meta Australia spokesperson Antonia Sanda said its investigations team was working to restore both Ms McTaggart’s and Mr Nicolaou’s accounts.
“We want to keep suspicious activity off our platform and protect people’s accounts, and are working to restore these accounts to the rightful owners,” she said.
“Online phishing techniques are not unique to Facebook, however we’re making significant investments in technology to protect the security of people’s accounts.
“We strongly encourage people to strengthen their online security by turning on app-based two-factor authentication and alerts for unrecognised logins.”
Tips to stop your Facebook page getting hacked
- Take action and report an account: People can always report an account, an ad, or a post that they feel is suspicious.
- Don’t click on suspicious links: Don’t trust messages demanding money, offering gifts or threatening to delete or ban your account (or verifying your account on Instagram). To help you identify phishing and spam emails, you can view official emails sent from your settings within the app.
- Don’t click on suspicious links from Meta/Facebook/Instagram: If you get a suspicious email or message or see a post claiming to be from Facebook, don’t click any links or attachments. If the link is suspicious, you’ll see the name or URL at the top of the page in red with a red triangle.
- Don’t respond to these messages/ emails: Don’t answer messages asking for your password, social security number, or credit card information.
- Avoid phishing: If you accidentally entered your username or password into a strange link, someone else might be able to log in to your account. Change your password regularly and don’t use the same passwords for everything.
- Get alerts: Turn on two-factor authentication for additional account security.
- Use extra security features: Get alerts about unrecognised logins and turn on two-factor authentication to increase your account security.
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