Alexandra S. Levine
2021 10 28
Facebook announced Thursday that it is changing its name to Meta, while unveiling a new logo resembling an infinity sign.
Its flagship social media platform will still be called Facebook, however. And whatever its name, the world’s largest social media company faces growing trouble in Washington and other world capitals following the disclosure of a trove of internal documents by whistleblower Frances Haugen.
In an upbeat, special-effects-laden online rollout Thursday afternoon, CEO Mark Zuckerberg insisted the company is relentlessly focused on its future — including virtual reality technology that will not be ready for prime time for years.
“Now it is time to take everything that we have learned and help build the next chapter,” Zuckerberg said at a company conference, announcing the new name and the coming Facebook “metaverse” that reimagines today’s internet for 3D — so users can have inside experiences rather than looking at them through a screen. “The future is going to be beyond anything that we can imagine.”
Facebook’s present vs. future: The company’s rebranding to Meta and reveal of the “metaverse” reflect some of the biggest changes at Facebook since its founding almost two decades ago. But they also come during one of its largest political disasters and trust deficits to date.
Scrutiny of the social network, and outrage over some of its activities, are arguably at an all-time high after Haugen turned over thousands of documents to Congress, federal financial regulators and the media. They revealed how much the company has known about the dangerous effects of its products, even as it has sought to expand its offerings and move into new markets.
Some critics argue that timing is no coincidence and that the new name and project are part of a crisis response strategy aimed at distracting lawmakers, investors and the public. Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.), chair of the Senate Commerce consumer protection panel that is leading an investigation into Facebook and heard from Haugen at a hearing this month, said the name change is part of Facebook’s broader battle against regulation.
Facebook is changing its name “because their reaction here is all about cosmetics, all about superficial changes designed to confuse and distract — just as they are continuing their lobbying against” children’s online safety protections, Blumenthal said at a Wednesday briefing on Capitol Hill. “And it will continue: changing names, emblems, insignias, logos — it’s all about the cosmetics for them because they want to continue that business model that makes them money."
Preempting Meta’s critics: Before announcing the new name and “metaverse” concept on Thursday, Zuckerberg acknowledged the public scrutiny on the company and the fact that some may be questioning whether this is the right time for the social network to be forging ahead with these plans.
Zuckerberg said his response to that skepticism is that “the future won’t be built on its own — it will be built by those who are willing to stand up and say, ‘This is the future we want, and I’m going to keep pushing and giving everything I’ve got to make this happen.’"
He added that “there are important issues to work on in the present — there always will be — so for many people, I’m just not sure there will ever be a good time to focus on the future.” He also emphasized that safety, privacy and ethics would be part of the development of the metaverse.
In addition, the years it will take for the virtual-reality and augmented-reality technology to take shape will offer plenty of time for regulators and policymakers to address implications for privacy and other concerns, said Nick Clegg, the company’s vice president of global affairs and communications.