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Social media regulation may trip Africa up en route to metaverse

Research shows that in South Africa, there is a fairly high percentage of people are active on social media and some users are already taking a closer look at the metaverse. However, as industry analysts and tech professionals have stated, Africa continues to struggle with social media and is still some way away from metaverse tech adoption.

ITWeb this week reported that based on the SA Social Media Landscape 2022 study, released by Ornico Media Monitoring and World Wide Worx, almost half of South Africa’s surveyed adult population (48.8%) are active on social media. But lurking beneath these numbers is the surprising emergence of a new kind of platform coming to the fore: the metaverse.

Moreover, while most of its users don’t think of it as the “metaverse”, 16.1% of adult South African said they participated in a “virtual world” in the last year.

This ‘virtual world’ takes the notion of online social interaction to a new level. But it could be argued that the impasse between industry regulators and social media network in some regions, like Nigeria, Zambia and Zimbabwe, represents a ‘road block’ for Africa en route to the metaverse.

In June Nigeria made headlines after its government, via the National Information Technology Development Agency (NITDA), leased a Draft Code of Practice that requires social media platforms to establish local offices and inform authorities about popular content and related demand.

As ITWeb Africa reported, the policy also makes it mandatory for social media platforms to furnish “authorised government agency with information on reason behind popular online content demand and the factor or figure” behind the influence.

In February this year, Zimbabwe emerged as the third country to restrict internet access and social media citing political reasons.

In terms of Africa’s opportunity to explore and leverage any tech benefits of the metaverse, attempts to control or regulate social media merely create distance between the continent and the metaverse.

Arthur Goldstuck, market analyst and CEO of World Wide Worx, has previously commented on the situation and said: “The meta-hyped version of the metaverse is as far from the African continent as low-cost, high-res VR headsets and affordable fibre cables or reliable 5G everywhere. In other words, it will arrive slowly over much of this decade, rather than the big bang that media hype suggests. However, the browser-based iterations of the metaverse will become increasingly used as platforms for entertainment and the arts, ranging from digital artworks to music and movies.”

Goldstuck told ITWeb that some respondents to the SA Social Media Landscape 2022 study would equate in-game environments, like Fortnite and Mimecast, as virtual worlds. 

“In other words, these are not necessarily people actively entering a virtual world, but the experience of participating in an interactive, immersive environment gives them a greater propensity to enter metaverse alternatives like Second Life, Decentraland and Ubuntuland,” he said.

The data emerges from a vast data set compiled by Ask Afrika in its biannual Target Group Index (TGI) survey, which every year interviews around 30,000 South African adults age 15 or more, living in cities and towns.

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