Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg has announced that his company is changing its name to Meta. The rebrand of Facebook comes amid increased public pressure in the wake of whistleblowing around security issues with Facebook’s platform.
The name change does not apply to its individual platforms, such as Facebook, Instagram, and Whatsapp, only the parent company that owns them.
According to the company, the current branding could not “possibly represent everything that we’re doing today, let alone in the future” and that the new name will better encompass the company’s activities, as it attempts to diversify into new areas such as virtual reality and the creation of the Metaverse, an online world where people can game, work, and communicate in a virtual environment.
The rebrand comes in the midst of what has been a turbulent period for Facebook, a company well used to controversy. The company is still dealing with the fallout from documents released by whistle-blower Frances Haugen, a former product manager at the company. These documents showed how the internal management of Facebook were aware of the real-world damage being caused by its platforms and how it ignored warnings from employees about the risks of their design decisions.
The documents also show how Facebook has neglected user safety, instead prioritising user engagement. This has resulted in users being exposed to more and more extreme content, misinformation, and harmful material while using Facebook’s platforms. Examples mentioned in the documents show how test profiles in the US were regularly exposed to QAnon conspiracy theories, amongst other radical content.
The documents are just one of many controversies that Facebook has found itself embroiled in since it was founded in 2004. In 2018, the company was caught up in the Cambridge Analytica scandal, which saw the harvesting of over 87 million Facebook users’ information which was then used for political advertising purposes, including in Donald Trump’s 2016 presidential campaign. The company paid fines of over $5 billion for their privacy violations in relation to the scandal.
The Facebook revelations are shining a light on the role that social media platforms play in the spreading of misinformation and radical content, resulting in increased scrutiny from governments and regulators.
Britain’s Minister for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport has already criticised Facebook’s rebrand, stating that “rebranding doesn’t work” and that “when harm is caused, we are coming after it.” The UK is one of many governments looking to tighten regulations on social media platforms such as Meta’s subsidiaries.
Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg also recently commented that the company was “retooling [their] teams to make serving young adults their North Star rather than optimizing for the larger number of older people.” In recent times Facebook’s platforms have had mixed success with younger users.
Instagram is overwhelmingly the company’s most popular platform amongst younger demographics. While figures show that in Ireland Facebook’s namesake platform has three times as many users over the age of 65 than teenagers using the platform. An estimated 200,000 teenagers use Instagram as opposed to just 86,000 having a profile on Facebook.
It remains to be seen what the future will hold for Meta, and while the company may have a new name and branding it seems that it will take more for the company to put its past controversies behind them.
Mark O’Rourke – Business Correspondent