Facebook chief executive Mark Zuckerberg. Source: Zach Gibson/Getty Images.
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  • Facebook plans to invest US$50 million (A$68.7 million) to partner with organisations to build the digital ‘metaverse’
  • The XR Programs and Research Fund will be used to ensure metaverse technologies are “built in a way that’s inclusive and empowering”
  • Facebook will work with researchers to allow users to obtain help if something they see in the metaverse makes them uncomfortable
  • It comes as the social media giant said it would suspend the development of its controversial Instagram Kids app

Facebook plans to invest US$50 million (A$68.7 million) to partner with organisations to build out the ‘metaverse’ — a digital world where people can use different devices to move and communicate in a virtual environment.

The world’s largest social media network has injected vast amounts of money into virtual and augmented reality, developing hardware such as its Oculus VR headsets and newer technology including augmented reality (AR) glasses and wristband technology.

Facebook has also bought a string of virtual reality (VR) gaming studios, including BigBox VR and has around 10,000 employees working on VR.

With the investment dubbed the XR Programs and Research Fund, the money will be spent globally over the next two years to ensure metaverse technologies are “built in a way that’s inclusive and empowering,” Facebook said on Monday.

The NASDAQ-listed behemoth said it planned to work with researchers across four areas, including data privacy and safety, and allow users to obtain help if something they saw in the metaverse made them uncomfortable.

Initial partners will include Seoul National University and the University of Hong Kong, which will research safety, ethics and responsible design. Meanwhile, Howard University in Washington DC will research the history of diversity in IT and how it could shape opportunity in the metaverse.

Facebook has faced intense scrutiny over the years on a wide range of issues, including the spread of misinformation and its negative impact on users, particularly teens.

On Monday, the company said it had suspended development of its Instagram Kids app — a dedicated platform for kids under 13 — after US lawmakers and advocacy groups cited safety concerns.

A Facebook executive will testify on Thursday at a US Senate committee hearing on the impact of its Instagram app on users’ mental health.

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