words by Maria Margot Kafka, Staff Writer
On October the 28th, a mere 6 days after media outlets published the Facebook Papers, Mark Zuckerberg announced Meta: the name of the new social technology company under which all his apps and technologies would come together.
This company rebrand introduces Zuckerberg’s new vision for the company, to bring the ‘metaverse’ to life. The metaverse is a concept of a future iteration of the internet that exists in a shared three-dimensional virtual reality universe. People would use augmented reality technologies to immerse into virtual spaces and communicate instead of using 2D screens. Zuckerberg wants Meta Platforms Inc., or Meta for short, to be a company that “helps people connect, find communities and grow businesses”. Going to a concert, shopping, working in an office, meeting friends could all be done in a simulated world, from the comfort of your own home.
‘Metaverse’ was coined by Neal Stephenson for his 1992 dystopian novel, Snow Crash. It is a portmanteau of “meta-” and “universe” with meta being a Greek prefix that means ‘after’ or ‘beyond’ in the sense of “transcending.” In Hebrew however, meta means “dead” bringing another layer of comedy to the “Facebook is dead” viral meme. The hashtag #FacebookDead even trended on Twitter. Besides this neologism’s interesting etymology, and the joke found in translation, copyright claiming the prefix ‘meta’ can bring about issues.
Meta has been used in short for many words including metaphysical, metacognition etc. Consequently, it is a highly sought after term to trademark. This was the case with MetaPC—an Arizona based company that sells technology equipment. The goods they wanted to sell under the name Meta include computers, their respective components and accessories, and software. If they own the ‘Meta’ trademark, Zuckerberg would not be able to use it in the US. The trademark application was filed in August, and it is still up for review. However, MetaPC owners stated their willingness to sell the trademark for $20 million. Nonetheless, any information (or criticism) about the metaverse concept, which is inherently dystopian, is now buried beyond page one of a Google search that is flooded by Facebook news. So, it might as well have been deleted from our collective consciousness.
According to Meta’s press release, following their presentation at Connect 2021, changing the corporation was essential to encompass all that the company is working on, transcending beyond its existing social media platforms. The name change will not affect their apps such as Facebook, Messenger, WhatsApp, and Instagram. Therefore, the issues raised by Frances Hughes’s release of the Facebook Papers will not be tackled by the rebrand. These include Instagram’s harmful effects on teenagers’ mental health, an algorithm change that increased divisive content on Facebook and the fact that any monitoring on these apps focuses on English content which does not reflect most of their users.
Changing the name, logo, and marketing strategy of the corporation as an attempt to distract from these controversies is further problematic. The developments and new technologies the ‘metaverse’ would require are in their infancy and may not come into fruition for decades as Zuckerberg admitted. Meta only provides abstract frameworks for its future products with little tangible evidence. Uncomfortable Oculus headsets and questionable graphics from Horizon Workspace make the Sims 4 look like a hyper realistic painting. Consumers are becoming increasingly informed. People living in this information abundance era expect transparency and demand companies to be on the inside what they portray on the outside.
In short, Meta got rebranded based on flimsy promises and future possibilities that arguably do not reflect the main focus and revenues of the current company, thus likely creating further disappointment and distrust from its users.