Facebook transforms into ‘Meta’: Why Mark Zuckerberg's decision on rebranding is a step towards the future

Facebook has changed its corporate name to Meta as part of a major rebrand.

The social media giant’s CEO Mark Zuckerberg made the announcement on Thursday at the Facebook Connect augmented and virtual reality conference where he said his company is rebranding itself as Meta in an effort to encompass its virtual-reality vision for the future what Zuckerberg calls the metaverse.

"I've been thinking a lot about our identity as we begin this next chapter. Facebook is one of the most used products in the history of the world," Zuckerberg said on Thursday. "It is an iconic social media brand, but increasingly it just doesn't encompass everything that we do.

"Today we're seen as a social media company," he added, "but in our DNA, we are a company that builds technology to connect people. And the metaverse is the next frontier just like social networking was when we got started."

Zuckerberg, who said he loved studying classics in school, said the name was inspired by the Greek word meta, which means "beyond." "For me, it symbolises that there is always more to build."

For those who still don't get it, Instagram head Adam Mosseri issued this video, explaining what the Metaverse is and what Facebook, who owns Instagram, plans to do. As he says, "the idea is to create a internet when you are not on but you in... a more immersive experience."

What changes at Facebook?

The change does not apply to its individual platforms, such as Facebook, Instagram and Whatsapp, only the parent company that owns them.

For those who don't remember, it's very similar to what Google did in 2015 when they restructured its company, calling its parent firm Alphabet. That, sadly hasn't caught on.

The company also unveiled a new sign at its headquarters in Menlo Park, California, on Thursday, replacing its thumbs-up “Like” logo with a blue infinity shape. Facebook did not announce any executive changes on Thursday. But on Zuckerberg's personal Facebook page, his job title was changed to: "Founder and CEO at Meta."

In a blog post, highlighting the change, Zuckerberg wrote that the company's structure would not change, but how it reports financial results will. "Starting with our results for the fourth quarter of 2021, we plan to report on two operating segments: Family of Apps and Reality Labs” he explained. “We also intend to start trading under the new stock ticker we have reserved, MVRS, on 1 December. Today’s announcement does not affect how we use or share data.”

Other announcements made by Meta

In addition to its name change, Meta also announced an upcoming virtual reality headset called Project Cambria, a high-end product available to be released next year at a higher price point than the $299 Quest 2 headset, the company said in a blog post.

Meta also announced the code name of its first fully AR-capable smart glasses: Project Nazare. The glasses are 'still a few years out,' the company said in a blog post and Zuckerberg noted, 'we still have a ways to go with Nazare, but we're making good progress.'

What exactly is Meta?

So, as we get used to Meta, let’s also understand what this means and why Zuckerberg chose this as the name for his company.

For tech-challenged people, the term 'metaverse' refers to digital spaces, which are made more lifelike by the use of virtual reality or augmented reality.

Zuckerberg has previously suggested the metaverse to be the future of the company, and has been talking up the metaverse since July.

The buzzy word, first coined in a dystopian novel three decades earlier, is popular in Silicon Valley and has been referenced by other tech firms such as Microsoft.

Describing his plans, Zuckerberg said he expects the metaverse to reach a billion people within the next decade. He described futuristic plans to create a digital world, in which users will feel they are with one another and have a “sense of presence” despite being far apart.

The platform would allow users to customise their avatars and digital spaces, decorating a digital office with pictures, videos and even books. The presentation imagined users inviting friends over virtually, two people attending a concert together despite being across the world from one another, and colleagues making work presentations remotely.

“When I send my parents a video with my kids, they’re going to feel like they’re right in the moment with us not peering through a little window,” he said.

A rebranding effort?

For many, the name change appears to be an attempt to change the subject from the Facebook Papers, a leaked document trove so dubbed by a consortium of news organisations that include 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 harmful consequences its algorithms wreaked across the world.

The Associated Press quoted marketing consultant Laura Ries as saying, “They can't walk away from the social network with a new corporate name and talk of a future metaverse.”

She compared the name Meta to when BP rebranded to Beyond Petroleum to escape criticism that it harmed the environment.

The company has had multiple hits to its reputation — from the reports that Facebook sat on research that showed Instagram harmed teenage mental health to even withholding important information about vaccine misinformation from policymakers during the pandemic.

It was also criticised for doing very little to curb hate speech.

Some of Facebook's biggest critics seemed unimpressed. The Real Facebook Oversight Board, a watchdog group focused on the company, announced that it will keep its own name.

“Changing their name doesn't change reality: Facebook is destroying our democracy and is the world's leading peddler of disinformation and hate," the group said in a statement. "Their meaningless name change should not distract from the investigation, regulation and real, independent oversight needed to hold Facebook accountable.”

The company is attempting to 'divert the conversation from their current problems onto the metaverse, which is exciting and futuristic,' Anne Olderog, a senior partner at the consulting firm Vivaldi with 20 years of brand-strategy experience, told Business Insider.

She called it a 'brilliant move' because 'truly, nobody understands' the metaverse. However, she added that the public could 'definitely see through things like that at this stage.'

“The fact that Zuckerberg has set his sights firmly on the so-called ‘metaverse’ while societies all over the world are scrambling to alleviate the myriad harms caused by his platforms just goes to show how out of touch Facebook is with real people,” Imran Ahmed, CEO of the Center for Countering Digital Hate, was quoted as saying by The Guardian.

But that isn't stopping Zuckerberg, seemingly eager to move on to his next big thing as crisis after crisis emerges at the company he created.

With inputs from agencies

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