On Thursday night, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg joined ex-MMA commentator and TV host Joe Rogan on the latter’s podcast, The Joe Rogan Experience, for some reason. The two collectively talked shit about rival social media platform Twitter, dropped hints about a new VR headset, and denied that social media is responsible for political divisions in the U.S. At the same time, the Zuck opened up about what being the head of one of the world’s biggest social platforms is like. Despite downplaying social media’s toxicity, he told Rogan this about interacting with his community: “it’s almost like every day, you wake up and you’re punched in the stomach.”
Specifically, Zuckerberg said he wakes up every morning, looks at his phone and the “million messages” popping up on the screen and winces. “It’s usually not good. People reserve the good stuff to tell me in person.”
There’s a lot of meaning behind that statement. If it’s not news about how Facebook is collecting or abusing user data, then his feed’s probably rolling with negativity for his rather awful looking early metaverse, Horizon Worlds. There’s obviously a lot going on, which is why Zuckerberg told Rogan he doesn’t actually use Facebook all that much, since “there aren’t enough hours in the day.” He even let it slip that Meta spent $5 billion in 2021 fighting disinformation and “community integrity work.”
But Zuckerberg doesn’t like this aspect of running a company with a business model that depends so much on user data, particularly selling targeted ads to those customers all while keeping them glued to the platform 24/7. The CEO said: “Part of what I’ve struggled with around this… I didn’t get into this to basically judge those things. I got into this to design technology that helps people connect.”
This is where the metaverse comes into the picture, which Zuckerberg seems much happier to talk about. The Meta CEO also announced that the company is due to unleash its new VR headset upon the world in October during its Connect conference. This new VR headset will apparently contain eye and face tracking technology. Meta’s head called these features “social presence,” meant to replicate facial expressions in real time.
Meta’s promised AR glasses are still years away, the Zuck told Rogan. He didn’t elaborate whether this upcoming headset will be the company’s coveted Project Cambria (AKA the “Meta Quest Pro,” according to a July report from Bloomberg that dug through code found in the company’s iPhone app).
From the gist of the conversation, it sounds like part of the reason Meta is trying to champion the concept of a metaverse that lets users exist “inside” a shared environment is because Zuck’s realized how alienating current social media tech is. Zuckerberg told the podcast host that he doesn’t feel like he’s there with another person when he’s on a video call. What’s more important is that “virtual reality… really convinces your brain that you’re there.” The important thing, for him, is the act of “actively engaging with people and building relationships.”
Zuckerberg loves the idea of the metaverse so much that he’s been challenged by federal agencies over whether he’s trying to corner the market. He loves the idea of the metaverse so much that he even brought up a new talking point to Rogan, that the metaverse would let you work in a big company without needing to relocate to “some city that didn’t have your values in order to be able to get all the economic opportunities.” It’s an interesting talking point for the head of the California-based company, especially given how expensive a proper VR setup can still be. Values aren’t the only reason people avoid San Francisco.
The Meta CEO also took aim at Twitter several times, as the birdhouse is currently going through its own blowback over years of alleged substandard security measures thanks to an ex-security head turned whistleblower. He criticized Twitter over its earlier prohibitions of the Hunter Biden laptop story. “We didn’t do that,” Zuckerberg said, adding that Meta only “limited” sharing of that story. Otherwise, he compared Twitter to Instagram, saying that while Twitter makes him “upset,” Instagram “is a super positive space” thanks to its focus on pictures rather than text. That is, when Instagram users aren’t blowing up his inbox over Meta’s attempts to turn the photo sharing app into TikTok.
While Rogan sat back for most of the conversation (though he added that Facebook’s response was “much more reasonable than Twitter’s stance”), he also recognized the difficulties present for social media platforms faced with rooting out misinformation.
Rogan himself is a controversial figure, even when he strikes a relatively moderate figure in interviews such as this. The TV host turned world’s most popular podcaster has been called out for spreading Covid misinformation and for overtly racist comments, so much so that Spotify took down 70 episodes of the podcast earlier this year.
It’s interesting that Zuckerberg, who’s often very image-conscious, would be so candid with Rogan, to the point of hinting at a VR headset release date with him before others. It could be because of the podcaster’s high subscriber numbers, which have remained steady even after the controversy. Zuckerberg doesn’t reveal his political affiliations, though Rogan’s podcast listenership does lean to the right, according to Morning Consult, and it could be Rogan might have a fan in the Zuck. Past guests have even mentioned that Zuckerberg is a fan of jiu-jitsu and MMA, and Zuckerberg talked up his love of early morning workouts in this latest podcast episode.
Whatever the real answer is, Rogan and Zuckerberg’s now-viral interview probably hasn’t calmed the controversy for either figure.