The social media/ tech company Facebook has been so clouded with bad PR over the past few years that its name has pretty much become synonymous with controversy. The company has been at the center of privacy breaches, and has been battling accusations that the company has prioritized profits over user safety, including coming under congressional fire recently for not doing enough to curb the spread of misinformation on its platforms. In an effort to address the controversy surrounding Facebook, the company has announced that it will be changing its name to Meta— in an effort to rebrand the company as a whole.
The name Meta is a reference to the “metaverse” concept that Mark Zuckerberg has begun to sell, and what he announced will be the company’s primary focus going forward. According to Zuckerberg, the Metaverse is a form of virtual reality— an all immersive digital three-dimensional world that would serve as a substitute for our own reality. Mark Zuckerberg announced these plans in a bizarre, 80 minute Facebook video. In the video, Zuckerberg spent a lot of energy trying to appear as though he has a sense of humor, referencing several inside jokes in the process. In the background of the stream there was a bottle of Sweet Baby Ray’s barbeque sauce— a reference to an infamous 2016 video in which the company’s founder mentions the bbq sauce 11 times while “smoking meats” in his backyard. Later on in the video, Zuckerberg appears behind a desk next to a surfboard and sunscreen— a reference to a paparazzi photo that circulated last year depicting Zuckerberg on a surfboard wearing far too much sunscreen.
Overall, it seemed as though the company expended just as much effort in making Mark Zuckerberg appear to be normal and relatable as it did trying to sell this unconventional and (slightly eccentric) rebrand. But while the announcement garnered many memes, people were less than accepting of the metaverse as a whole— and were very skeptical of the timing of the announcement. For one, the metaverse doesn’t exist yet. So it seemed odd that the company would announce a product that doesn’t even exist, and then model their entire company after it. Most people assumed that this was merely a distraction from the larger scandals that Facebook has become enmeshed in, particularly in light of the recent documents that have been leaked by a whistleblower and former employee.
But barring all of this negative PR, the company has been facing another problem in recent years— attracting younger people to its platform. Facebook has become the social media platform which everyone’s mom uses. And when that happens, then young people are not very likely to hop on the platform as well. Since 2012, Facebook has been trying to attract users under 30 to its platform, but the problem keeps growing according to Bloomberg Businessweek.
So overall, it seems as though Facebook’s name change is simply not going to do enough to mitigate the plethora of problems that the company is facing. So if the company’s goal was to mitigate their bad PR— then this solution backfired dramatically. However, the idea of virtual reality is very intoxicating, and for those interested in VR, the idea that one of the most powerful tech companies in the world (if not the most) is choosing to invest wholeheartedly in the concept is very exciting. But for now, the future of Facebook— and the metaverse— remains in limbo.