Web 3.0 and the dark side of community


Written by Jasmin Fischer, SVP Research and Insights & , Jayson Fittipaldi, US Creative Director, SHARE Creative

As technology advances, so too do its applications and uses – and rapidly. In just over 20 years we have witnessed seismic shifts from Web 1.0, to 2.0, to 3.0. In the last decade  alone, Web 2.0 completely redefined how we digest information by transforming the static nature of Web 1.0 into a dynamic social ecosystem which allowed for direct interaction between users. But now, Web 3.0, even in its relative infancy, is pushing the envelope even further. It has radically decentralised these systems by giving every user the opportunity to surpass simply being a creator – users now have a more integral role in these spaces, involved in key things like moderating and shaping platforms. Through ecosystems such as the metaverse, many predictions suggest Web 3.0 will continue to evolve into a singular immersive virtual world, focused entirely around social connection and community. 

Offering an entirely unique playing field through which to reach global audiences, it should come as no surprise that brands quickly sought to find their virtual feet in the metaverse, with household and luxury names such as Nike, Gucci and Coca-Cola staking their flag in the virtual ground. But looking beyond marketing trends and considering the implications of these ecosystems on a social level, this lawless structure runs the risk of allowing antisocial behaviours to proliferate, and begs the question: how do brands navigate these spaces? At SHARE Creative, we conducted extensive social intelligence research to examine behaviours such as bullying to predict how Web 3.0 may compare to its more regulated predecessors on a granular level, mapping the safety of virtual worlds for users in the coming years as the technology continues to evolve – and what this means for brands. 

To anticipate how bullying might present itself in Web 3.0, we investigated how its predecessors spread across Web 2.0 in viral ways, from memes to video, and the real life effects of these behaviours. A key example of this is Rebecca Black, who at only 13 years old released a music video for her song ‘Friday’. Relentlessly criticised across social media and bullied, Black ended up leaving school, and astonishingly 76% of respondents to an InStyle survey revealed that they believed this cyberbullying to be justified. While keyboard warriors find security behind screens of anonymity, Black’s story and the public’s response to her American Dream attempt at stardom prove that cyberbullying is rife, particularly among (young) women. 

But it isn’t just Black – research conducted by the PEW RESEARCH CENTER revealed that 41% of U.S. adults have experienced online harassment, which jumps to a whopping two thirds in users under 30. Given that only 18% said they considered social media companies to be doing a good job at regulating safety in-platform, it’s not beyond the realm of possibility to suggest that this problem may worsen in an even more virtualised world of avatars. Our own research corroborates the PEW findings as cyber safety concerns become more granular: the main pillars of concern for the metaverse among our respondents were racism; criticism of meta itself; privacy and security concerns; and the impacts of the metaverse on children. Draft legislation like the Online Safety Bill may be taking steps to remove the anonymity which online trolls often use as a shield, but in a purely virtual environment this doesn’t remove the fact that virtual actions often have real life consequences for those singled out while their aggressors remain hidden. 

Far from abstract concerns, these forms of abuse are already taking place: stories have begun to arise of women being harassed in the metaverse, and Meta’s own CTO has admitted that ‘moderating what people say and how they act in the metaverse at any meaningful scale is practically impossible’. To examine the scale of this phenomenon and how cyberbullying is discussed online, we conducted extensive social intelligence research with our proprietary AI algorithm to segment the conversation into underlying themes and key drivers. This unique research revealed that 10% of mentions were concerned with the potential of racism in addition to other forms of discrimination, while some 7% focused on the safety of children in the metaverse. So what next? If safeguarding isn’t a viable option in the metaverse, how do brands not only protect but empower these communities as they venture further into its digital folds and expand their marketing strategies to target new audiences? 

Given the nascent status of many Web 3.0 platforms this isn’t an exact science, and marketers will likely learn as they go, but they can draw inspiration from trusty Web 2.0 as a starting point. Just like any other brand taking a stand on social issues on Twitter, Facebook or Instagram, the same may apply to brands in the metaverse – perhaps even more so considering the need even for established brands to make their mark. Effective stand out against competition in virtual spaces hinges on facilitating positive social interaction in the metaverse. In Web 3.0, the job of the community manager has reached new heights. By demonstrating their commitment to socio-ethical issues to protect users, and jumping into cultural moments, these community managers will help their brands cut through the noise with instant relevancy and catch the attention of younger, socially-engaged audiences in these gamified realms in the process. The brands themselves will arbitrate on safeguarding, rather than relying on external oversight or regulation. This brings a whole new dimension to brand stewardship, and with it, a whole host of possibilities.

If Web 3.0 is all about experience, then issues of bullying or harassment may be inevitable, but that isn’t to say that they can’t be mitigated. Brand purpose is becoming increasingly important in both digital and physical spheres due to overly saturated markets, and these businesses play an important role in empowering their communities to build a safe and engaging space. For many, the metaverse may well be a cause for concern, and yet there are already movements focused on wellness in Web 3.0, spearheaded by figures such as Shira Lazar, public speaker, blogger and founding member of BFF, a community that supports women’s involvement in Web 3.0.

Clearly, by virtue of its immersive nature, the curation of an experience is going to be paramount in the metaverse, and marketers should take heed. It isn’t just about selling a product or service anymore, but rather about creating engaged communities in real-time, which comes with a duty of care or at the very least a move away from the anonymous trolling of keyboard warriors and towards a more authentic, lived (albeit virtual) experience. To crack the code of metaverse success, marketers will need to look beyond the markets themselves and dig a little deeper to really understand the needs of the individual and the communities they want to build in the long term.

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