Facebook’s name change to Meta is designed to help the company move forward on building the next digital frontier, the metaverse. Management also hopes it will help Facebook move beyond the barrage of criticism facing its social networking platforms.

Facebook becomes a subsidiary alongside Instagram, WhatsApp and other products under the Meta umbrella.

Rooted in science fiction novels, the metaverse merges virtual and augmented reality technologies to envision a new online realm. Last week at the Facebook Connect conference, the company showed examples of people transforming themselves into avatars and playing, socializing, shopping and working alongside others virtually, often in far-off places.

“The next platform and medium will be even more immersive and embodied internet where you’re in the experience, not just looking at it,” said CEO Mark Zuckerberg said. “We believe the metaverse will be the successor to the mobile internet.”

What’s really behind Facebook’s rebrand to Meta?
Simulation of metaverse user virtually attending a concert – Source: Meta keynote video

Guiding the metaverse may help Meta recapture younger consumers who have abandoned Facebook and are showing signs of losing interest in Instagram. Mr. Zuckerberg cautioned that “many billions of dollars” will be spent scaling the metaverse and that elements may not become mainstream for another five to 10 years.

The moves follow a flood of negative stories about Facebook, based on documents leaked by an ex-employee. Charges range from spreading hate speech and misinformation to depressing teenagers’ self-esteem.

News reports have speculated on whether Facebook’s rebrand was similar to Google’s change to Alphabet that signaled broader ambitions or Philip Morris’ to Altria Group that addressed a toxic reputation. Members of Congress have likened Facebook and Instagram’s tactics to that of the tobacco industry.

Forrester VP and research director Mike Proulx told USA Today, “If Meta doesn’t address its issues beyond a defensive and superficial altitude, those same issues will occupy the metaverse.”

New York Times tech columnist Kevin Roose wrote, “If it works, Mr. Zuckerberg’s metaverse would usher in a new era of dominance — one that would extend Facebook’s influence to entirely new types of culture, communication and commerce. And if it doesn’t, it will be remembered as a desperate, costly attempt to give a futuristic face-lift to a geriatric social network while steering attention away from pressing societal problems. Either possibility is worth taking seriously.”


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