Facebook is rebranding itself as Meta, in an attempt to encompass its virtual-reality vision for the future, which Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg said was a metaverse.
Sceptics point out that it also appears to be an attempt to change the subject from the Facebook Papers, a leaked document trove, so dubbed by a consortium of news organizations. Many of these documents, first described by former Facebook employee-turned whistle-blower Frances Haugen, have revealed how Facebook ignored or downplayed internal warnings of the negative and often harmful consequences its algorithms wreaked across the world.
“Facebook is the world’s biggest social media platform and they are being accused of creating something that is harmful to people and society,” said marketing consultant Laura Ries. She compared the name Meta to when BP rebranded to Beyond Petroleum to escape criticism that it harmed the environment.
Analyst Victoria Petrock said that Facebook cannot “walk away” from the social network with a “new corporate name” and talk of a future metaverse. She also said that metaverse would be the “internet brought to life”, or “at least rendered in 3D.”
“Essentially, it’s a world of endless, interconnected virtual communities where people can meet, work and play, using virtual reality headsets, augmented reality glasses, smartphone apps or other devices. It also will incorporate other aspects of online life such as shopping and social media,” Petrock said.
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Zuckerberg said that he expects the metaverse to reach a billion people within the next decade. It will be a place people will be able to interact, work, and create products and content, in what he hopes will be a new ecosystem that creates millions of jobs for creators.
The announcement comes amid an existential crisis for Facebook. It faces heightened legislative and regulatory scrutiny in many parts of the world, following revelations in the Facebook Papers.
Some of Facebook’s biggest critics seemed unimpressed. The Real Facebook Oversight Board, a watchdog group focused on the company, announced that it would keep its own name.
“Changing their name doesn’t change reality: Facebook is destroying our democracy and is the world’s leading peddler of disinformation and hate,” the group said in a statement. “Their meaningless name change should not distract from the investigation, regulation and real, independent oversight needed to hold Facebook accountable,” the statement said.
In explaining the rebrand, Zuckerberg said that the name Facebook just “does not encompass everything the company does any more.”
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Facebook’s primary social network, now includes Instagram, Messenger, its Quest VR headset, its Horizon VR platform and more such sites.
“Today we are seen as a social media company. But, in our DNA, we are a company that builds technology to connect people. Facebook, the app, along with Instagram, WhatsApp and Messenger, are here to stay; the company’s corporate structure also won’t change. But on December 1, its shares will start trading under a new ticker symbol, MVRS,” Zuckerberg said, adding that Metaverse is “the new way”.
Zuckerberg, who is a fan of classics, explained that the word meta comes from the Greek word beyond.
A corporate rebranding won’t solve the myriad problems at Facebook revealed by thousands of internal documents in recent weeks. It probably won’t even get people to stop calling the social media giant Facebook or a social media giant, for that matter.
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But that isn’t stopping Zuckerberg, seemingly eager to move on to his next big thing, as crisis after crisis emerges at the company he created. While largely dismissing revelations from the Facebook Papers as unfair criticism, Zuckerberg has focused on building a virtual environment you can go inside of, instead of just looking at on a screen.
Just as smartphones replaced desktop computers, Zuckerberg is betting that the metaverse will be the next way people will interact with computers and each other. If Instagram and messaging were Facebook’s forays into the mobile evolution, Meta is its bet on the metaverse. And what’s better than a name change to show how serious he is.
(With inputs from Agencies)