FaceyMcBookFace: Can Facebook’s new name save the social media company?

Facebook knows it has an image problem. So it’s becoming a ‘metaverse’ company. A what?

Facebook: the company seems to be hoping that a rebrand will wipe the slate clean. Photograph: Chris Delmas/AFP via Getty

Facebook: the company seems to be hoping that a rebrand will wipe the slate clean. Photograph: Chris Delmas/AFP via Getty

 

Facebook is in the news a lot this week. What’s going on?

The social-media giant Facebook (as it’s currently known, but more on that shortly) announced this week that it is to create 10,000 highly skilled new jobs in the EU over the next five years building its “metaverse”. The company has committed $50 million to the project and says that over the next few years it will transition from social-media business to metaverse company. And as part of that transition it is expected to announce a major name change next week.

Back up there. What’s a metaverse again?

According to Facebook’s chief executive, Mark Zuckerberg, the metaverse – which is a term borrowed from science fiction – will be the successor to the mobile internet, linking virtual reality (VR) and augmented reality (AR) together. “Instead of just viewing content, you are in it,” he explained recently. It is “a persistent, synchronous environment where we can be together … You might be able to jump into an experience, like a 3D concert or something, from your phone.”

Zuckerberg has described how, wearing a headset, you’ll be able to send your hologram to meetings, or invite colleagues to join you virtually in a fully immersive space where they can “see your five monitors, or whatever it is, and the documents or all the windows of code that you have, or a 3D model that you’re working on”. So it’s like Zoom with goggles or, as he puts it, “the next best thing to teleportation”.

Right. So what’s the new Facebook going to be called? FaceTrek?

If Zuckerberg is stuck for ideas, the internet is not short of suggestions, not all of them entirely serious. The comedian Jon Stewart suggests “Philip Morris. I think it’s available.” The journalist Kara Swisher tweeted a photo of the press release about the new Trump Media & Technology Group – announced the same day – with an acerbic “groovy new name for Facebook”. The Buzzfeed reporter Katie Notopoulous put forward a few, including FaceyMcBookFace and Oops We Facilitated Genocide.

Other suggestions include Waystar Royco (the toxic fictional company featured in HBO’s Succession), a more literary 1984, an onomatopoeic Bacefook, a charmingly retro MySpace or a frank Amerizucked. The actor Steve Martin helpfully tweeted that he had just “copyrighted ‘metaverse’”.

Any serious suggestions out there?

Bloomberg pointed out that the web address meta.com “currently redirects to meta.org, the home of a biomedical research discovery tool developed under the stewardship of the Chan Zuckerberg Initiative”. The Verge, which broke the story, seems to think the name will have something to do with Horizon, though it adds that the “name is a closely guarded secret within its walls and not known widely, even among its full senior leadership”. Either of those is a possibility.

This all seems to be happening at a convenient time

Astutely observed. Facebook has been under intense scrutiny in the United States following a lawsuit from the Federal Trade Commission and damning testimony by the whistleblowing former data scientist Frances Haugen, who told Congress that it harms children, creates division and undermines democracy in pursuit of breakneck growth and “astronomical profits”. Oh, and it’s also facing a threatened walkout by moderators over conditions. Only now nobody seems to be talking about any of that any more.

The hope, presumably, is that a rebrand would wipe the slate completely clean of these messy claims of a monopoly, its hate speech and fake-news problem, its role in the spread of extremism, and the damage it is knowingly doing to young people’s mental health. In reality, critics suggested that what this week’s news really reveals is that Facebook sees this as a branding problem rather than a much more existential crisis. Whether Congress will agree that it’s merely a communications problem is another matter.

So a new name isn’t going to fix it?

Not a chance.

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