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Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg announces during the company's live stream that the new company will be called Meta
Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg announces during the company's live stream that the new company will be called Meta
Image: Alamy Stock Photo

Explainer: Why has Facebook changed its company name?

Facebook has revealed a new company name and brand, Meta.
Oct 29th 2021, 1:25 PM 29,065 23

FACEBOOK ANNOUNCED YESTERDAY that it has changed its parent company name to Meta.

The change comes amid a string of controversies that have followed the company’s various ventures, particularly the main Facebook platform, Instagram and WhatsApp. 

While the wider company name is being rebranded to Meta, the core Facebook service will remain unchanged.

What reasoning has the company given for the name change, what impact does this have on social media users and what sort of a reaction has this news received?

Let’s take a look…

Why is the company rebranding?

Facebook has outlined that the move comes as it pivots to its ambitions for the “metaverse,” which would blur the lines between the physical world and the digital one.

However, the rebrand also comes as the company battles to fend off one of its worst controversies yet. 

Some US politicians have lashed out at the company’s announcement, with US Senator Richard Blumenthal alleging the name change was nothing more than an effort to “confuse” and “distract”, alleging that it “won’t erase years of devious practices and disregard for privacy, kids’ wellbeing, spreading hate and genocide”. 

Senator Ed Markey has refused to acknowledge the rebrand. 

“Facebook wants us to start calling it Meta, but we’re just going to keep calling it what it is, a threat to privacy, democracy and children,” he tweeted. 

Despite the criticism of the move, chief executive Mark Zuckerberg said the current brand is “so tightly linked to one product that it can’t possibly represent everything that we’re doing today, let alone in the future”.

“Over time, I hope that we are seen as a metaverse company and I want to anchor our work and our identity on what we’re building towards,” he said in a virtual conference.

“We just announced that we were making a fundamental change to our company. We’re now looking at and reporting on our business as two different segments, one for our family of apps, and one for our work on future platforms.

“And as part of this, it is time for us to adopt a new company brand to encompass everything that we do to reflect who we are and what we hope to build.

“I am proud to announce that starting today, our company is now Meta.”

What is the metaverse?

Facebook has already announced plans to hire 10,000 staff in Europe to work on the ‘metaverse’, so what exactly is it? 

The metaverse, is in fact, the stuff of science-fiction: the term was coined by Neal Stephenson in his 1992 novel Snow Crash, in which people don virtual reality headsets to interact inside a game-like digital world.

Facebook’s idea of it is more or less the same. 

Zuckerberg has described it as being a place where rather than just viewing content “you are in it” and as an early example has used the idea of people watching a concert video on their smartphone but then jumping in it using the metaverse to create the sense they are really there.

The metaverse would not be run by one company, Facebook previously said, but would instead be an open internet which different companies could build on and offer their own experiences to people.

Some of the virtual experiences already exist in some form, but they are all independent and not seamlessly linked together – that is the aim of the metaverse.

Facebook’s metaverse idea would see all the experience accessible in one place and at any point, with users able to enter it not just via VR headsets, but also PCs, games consoles and mobile devices in much the same way they do now with mobile internet.

The company’s idea is that you can jump in and have any real-life social experience in virtual reality, with holograms or avatars representing the user and their friends and colleagues. 

But people will still have a while to wait to use the metaverse. 

The metaverse doesn’t actually even exist yet and Zuckerberg has stressed it is a long-term project. 

What controversies have hit Facebook?

As mentioned, the social media giant has been battling one of its most serious crises ever.

Last month, former employee Frances Haugen leaked reams of internal studies showing executives knew of their sites’ potential for harm, prompting a renewed US push for regulation.

Reports from a consortium of US news outlets have used those documents to produce a deluge of damning stories, including blaming Zuckerberg for his platform bending to state censors and highlighting how the site has stoked anger in the name of keeping users engaged.

Facebook noted in a filing that from September “it became subject to government investigations and requests” relating to the documents leaked to lawmakers and regulators.

The company this week issued to employees a “legal hold”, which is an instruction to preserve documents and communications because it faces inquiries from authorities.

How will the rebrand impact social media users?

In short, it won’t. 

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Facebook, Instagram and WhatsApp – which are used by billions around the world – will keep their names under the rebranding.

This is similar to how Google created a new parent company name, Alphabet, in 2015 as a way of highlighting it was no longer just a search engine but a broad range of different companies working on smartphones, driverless cars and other technology.

How have people reacted to the Meta rebrand?

Unsurprisingly, the company’s critics have pounced on the rebranding.

An activist group calling itself The Real Facebook Oversight Board has said the platform is harming democracy while spreading disinformation and hate.

“Their meaningless name change should not distract from the investigation, regulation and real, independent oversight needed to hold Facebook accountable,” the group said in a statement.

While critics have been up in arms, others on the internet have taken a more lighthearted approach to the news. 

Meat jokes were all the rage, with US hamburger chain Wendy’s tweeting shortly after the news: “Changing name to Meat.”

Remaining true to its word, the chain did just that – but only on its Twitter profile.

A tweeting wit under the handle @NicoTheMemeDude queried: “Is this the beginning of the Meataverse?” To which Wendy’s retorted: “very meta.”

Twitter also joined in on the commentary last night, tweeting: “BIG NEWS lol jk still Twitter.”

For lots of people, meta will forever describe something that refers back to or is about itself, like a film about people making a film about filmmaking.

“Everyone posting about Facebook on Twitter is very… meta,” wrote @JohnRush32.  

With reporting by Press Association and AFP

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Hayley Halpin

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