Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg said his company is being rebranded Meta in an effort to embrace its virtual reality vision for the future, what Zuckerberg calls the “metaverse.”
Skeptics point out that it also appears to be an attempt to change the subject of the Facebook Papers, a trove of leaked documents named after a consortium of news organizations including The Associated Press.
Many of these documents, first described by former Facebook employee turned whistleblower Frances Haugen, have revealed how Facebook ignored or downplayed internal warnings of the negative and often damaging consequences its algorithms caused around the world.
Facebook, the application, along with Instagram, WhatsApp and Messenger, are here to stay; none will change their names. The corporate structure of the company will not change either. But on December 1, its shares will begin trading under a new ticker symbol, “MVRS.”
“Facebook is the world’s social media platform and they are accused of creating something that is harmful to people and society,” said marketing consultant Laura Ries. She compared the Meta name to when BP changed its name to “Beyond Petroleum” to escape criticism that it harmed the environment. “They can’t walk away from the social network with a new corporate name and talk about a metaverse future.”
What is the metaverse? Think of it as the internet coming to life, or at least 3D rendering. Zuckerberg has described it as a “virtual environment” that you can enter, rather than simply staring at a screen. Essentially, it is a world of interconnected, endless virtual communities where people can meet, work, and play, using virtual reality headsets, augmented reality glasses, smartphone apps, or other devices.
It will also incorporate other aspects of online life, such as shopping and social media, according to Victoria Petrock, an analyst who follows emerging technologies.
Other tech companies like Microsoft, chipmaker Nvidia, and Fortnite maker Epic Games have been outlining their own visions for how the metaverse will work.
“That’s great,” said Richard Kerris, vice president of Nvidia’s Omniverse platform, after a reporter briefed him on Facebook’s name change. “We believe that there will be many companies that build virtual worlds and environments in the metaverse, in the same way that there are many companies that do things on the World Wide Web.”
Zuckerberg says he expects the metaverse to reach a billion people in the next decade. It will be a place where people can interact, work and create products and content in what he hopes will be a new ecosystem that creates millions of jobs for creators.
‘Peddler of disinformation’
The announcement comes amid an existential crisis for Facebook. It faces increased legislative and regulatory scrutiny in many parts of the world following the revelations in the Facebook documents.
Some of Facebook’s biggest critics didn’t seem impressed. Facebook’s Royal Oversight Board, a watchdog group focused on the company, announced that it will keep its own name.
“Changing its name does not change the reality: Facebook is destroying our democracy and is the leading peddler of disinformation and hatred,” the group said in a statement. “Its meaningless name change should not distract from investigation, regulation and reality, independent oversight is needed to hold Facebook accountable.”
Explaining the rebrand, Zuckerberg said the name “Facebook” no longer encompasses everything the company does. In addition to its main social network, which now includes Instagram, Messenger, its Quest VR headsets, its Horizon VR platform, and more.
“Today we are seen as a social media company,” Zuckerberg said. “But in our DNA we are a company that creates technology to connect people.”
A corporate rebrand won’t solve the myriad problems on 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.
But that doesn’t stop Zuckerberg, seemingly eager to move on to his next big hit as crisis after crisis erupts at the company he created.
While he largely dismisses the revelations in the Facebook docs as unfair criticism, Zuckerberg has focused on building a virtual environment that can be entered rather than simply staring at a screen.
Just as smartphones replaced desktops, Zuckerberg is betting that the metaverse will be the next way for people to interact with computers, and with each other. If Instagram and messaging were Facebook’s forays into mobile evolution, Meta is its bet on the metaverse. And what’s better than a name change to show how serious you are?
A fund focused on the metaverse, the Roundhill Ball Metaverse ETF, already began trading on the New York Stock Exchange using the ticker META earlier this year, which may have forced Facebook to choose MVRS.
“I think my phone is melting,” its creator, metaverse enthusiast Matthew Ball, tweeted Thursday after Zuckerberg’s announcement. He said in an interview that he welcomed Facebook’s meta-reverse vision, noting that the company was already one of the highest-rated stocks on his index.
“It doesn’t bother me at all,” he said.