November 5, 2021 | OPINION | By Samwel Makyao | Illustration by Sierra Romero
What comes to mind when you hear the word “Facebook?” An online social network website where people can create profiles and share photos, or a platform with a couple of teenagers sharing what we call “tea?” Perhaps the words deceptive and aloof?
On Oct. 20, Facebook, Inc. announced that it plans to rebrand its company with a new name: Meta. Facebook’s main reasoning for the change was that the company’s current name does not reflect everything it does.
“The rebrand would likely position the blue Facebook app as one of many products under a parent company overseeing billion-user brands like Instagram, WhatsApp, and more,” The Verge reported.
The timing of the name change, however, is what I found to be controversial. Is Facebook trying to distract the public from its numerous allegations regarding privacy and safety? Does this mean that Facebook will no longer be held accountable despite the trove of leaked documents and testimonies from its whistleblower, Frances Haugen?
Whistleblower? What whistleblower? Facebook just does not care.
“Facebook is the world’s social media platform and they are being accused of creating something that is harmful to people and society,” Haugen said. “They can’t walk away from the social network with a new corporate name and talk of a future metaverse.”
Do not get me wrong; I am not another average anti-Facebook wannabe. I believe (as we all should) that technology is best when it brings people together. It is the mother of civilizations.
The change to “Meta” on Oct. 28 was accompanied by a new logo designed like a blue-colored infinity symbol. During his keynote presentation, Zuckerberg claimed that the metaverse was the future of the company he founded.
“I think that there was just a lot of confusion and awkwardness about having the company brand be also the brand of one of the social media apps,” he said. “I think it’s helpful for people to have a relationship with a company that is different from the relationship with any specific one of the products, which can kind of supersede all of that.”
So, what is Facebook’s “metaverse?”
According to Zuckerberg, it is a “virtual environment” where people can go inside instead of just looking at a screen. Essentially, it is a realm of endless, interconnected virtual communities where people can meet, take trips online, work, play, attend virtual concerts, buy and try on digital clothing via virtual reality headsets, augmented reality glasses, or smartphone apps.
Talking about the timing and the suspect of the rebranding, Zuckerberg said he had been thinking about rebranding the company ever since he bought Instagram and WhatsApp, in 2012 and 2014, but earlier this year he realized that it was time to make the change.
Complicating the matter is that the change does not apply to its individual platforms, such as Facebook, Instagram, and WhatsApp, only the parent company that owns them. This is not what I expected from Zuckerberg, who claims that good-faith criticism makes Facebook better. This is not what I anticipated from a company that praises itself for having an open culture that encourages discussion and research about how they can make progress on many complex issues that affect them.
Focusing on the metaverse won’t solve any problems that Facebook has faced in recent years. Instead, it shows that the company is unwilling to do the necessary work to find solutions. It still has many problems it must fix.
For example, it has not responded to claims on why its services were used to spread religious hatred in India or how its industry-leading “services” were threats to democracy.
With this in mind, I am reluctant to say that Facebook can do better. They had every resource to make this happen, yet here we are. So, as you enter this virtual universe of Facebook, I encourage you to join with a thick skin and carefree attitude. For as much as the new direction is exciting, this rebranding move shouldn’t take attention away from the very real problems Facebook has repeatedly failed to fix.