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Mark Zuckerberg reportedly got mad that someone at Sheryl Sandberg's wedding brought up his widely mocked metaverse avatar

Lakshmi Varanasi   

Mark Zuckerberg reportedly got mad that someone at Sheryl Sandberg's wedding brought up his widely mocked metaverse avatar
  • Mark Zuckerberg's metaverse avatar was famously critiqued in 2022, leading him to design a new one.
  • The topic reportedly came up at the wedding of his former No. 2, Sheryl Sandberg.

Meta CEO Mark Zuckerberg knows that people like to poke fun at him on the internet — and there are dozens of memes of him to prove the point.

Usually, he plays along and might even poke some fun at himself. But it appears that jokes about his metaverse avatar hit a nerve. When his widely mocked metaverse avatar came up in conversation at the wedding of former Meta COO Sheryl Sandberg in August 2022, Zuckerberg was actually pretty upset, Bloomberg reported. (A Meta spokesperson told Business Insider that Zuckerberg doesn't recall a conversation about his avatar happening at the wedding.)

The meme (for anyone who isn't tapped into Zuckerberg subculture) was essentially a screenshot of Zuckerberg's metaverse avatar standing in front of the Eiffel Tower that went viral earlier that month for its low-quality appearance. The image was ridiculed for awkwardly resembling the graphics in '90s video games like "Zelda" and "Quake."

And Zuckerberg took the public criticism to heart: He posted a higher-quality version of his avatar days later to tease upcoming improvements and admitted that the original one was "basic." When he debuted the new avatar in full months later, one of the graphic designers who worked on it claimed that he and his team had gone through around 40 revisions of Zuckerberg's face before a final version was approved.

It's not clear exactly what the alleged interaction at the wedding about Zuckerberg's much-memed avatar entailed, but Bloomberg reported that the incident made him think that his PR team wasn't doing a great job of representing Meta's products in an exciting way. "Several" members of his PR team were shuffled to other teams at the company as a result, according to the report.

Zuckerberg's fixation on the metaverse — a shared virtual world in which users will interact and work — made headlines and drew scrutiny from Wall Street in the wake of his decision to rebrand the company to Meta in 2021. Zuckerberg had Meta pour billions into his big bet and said it would likely be many years before the efforts turned a meaningful profit.

But things changed when ChatGPT took the world by storm, prompting Zuckerberg to take strides to promote and prioritize Meta's developments in AI, which include its LLaMA large-language model, a spate of MetaAI chatbots, and even wearables like AI-enabled Ray-Bans. Zuckerberg's AI pivot wasn't starting from scratch — he had actually launched Facebook's AI efforts back in 2013 when he hired a "godfather of AI" Yann LeCunn, according to the Bloomberg report.

A spokesperson told Bloomberg that: "Meta's success developing generative AI and open models, like Llama—which have been downloaded over 100 million times—speaks for itself."

Despite Meta's AI being in the spotlight, Zuckerberg has said Meta still sees the metaverse as important. "This is a very long-term bet," Zuckerberg said on a call with analysts after Meta's second quarter results were released in July. "I can't guarantee you that I'm gonna be right about this bet. I do think that this is the direction that the world is going in." A spokesperson for Meta told BI that the company is focused on both AI and the metaverse, and pointed to comments that Zuckerberg made reiterating commitment to both goals during the company's first and third-quarter earnings calls in 2023.

But the shift to prioritizing AI, which could offer meaningful revenue sooner than the company's metaverse ambitions, has reportedly ruffled some feathers within Meta.

Morale has tanked on the team in charge of Meta's metaverse efforts, Reality Labs, employees told Bloomberg, as they're apparently no longer Zuckerberg's "favorite team."

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