Facebook and… the Metaverse?

Image courtesy of CNBC 

By Noelia Veras

Mark Zuckerberg, CEO of Facebook Inc., announced on October 28 that the company will now be called Meta. Zuckerberg announced this change in a video in the midst of controversy surrounding himself and his company, but he made it clear that Facebook, Instagram, Whatsapp, and all of the other individual products owned by the company will maintain their current names. 

For years, the company has faced scandal and controversy regarding the ethics of its business model, but currently, it is facing a significant crisis: on October 5, whistleblower Frances Haugen, a former data scientist at Facebook, testified before a Senate subcommittee.

Haugen spoke about the platform’s algorithm and how it spread misinformation on the app, especially regarding presidential elections. Additionally, the subcommittee especially emphasized the impact of social media in general, but particularly of Instagram, on the mental health of children, something which Facebook Inc. was aware of long ago and has done nothing to stop.

According to NPR, “Haugen has leaked one Facebook study that found that 13.5% of U.K. teen girls in one survey say their suicidal thoughts became more frequent after starting on Instagram.”

Other statistics compiled by NPR state that after using Instagram, studies showed that 17% of teen girls reported their eating disorders getting worse and that about 32% of teen girls said that, when they were feeling bad about their bodies, Instagram made them feel even worse.

“Facebook exploited teens using powerful algorithms that amplified their insecurities,” said Subcommittee Chair Richard Blumenthal (D-CT), according to the same NPR article. “I hope we will discuss as to whether there is such a thing as a safe algorithm.”

Evidently, there is a significance behind Facebook Inc. changing its name. According to Zuckerberg, the name Meta was used because of his love of classics and Latin, in which Meta means beyond. For Zuckerberg, this marks the potential of the company engaging in beyond 2-dimensional media. The CEO announced in the video that the company would be dedicated to a “metaverse” where social media will be more immersive. 

How and what the metaverse is and how it will operate is still unclear, and even Zuckerberg himself did not give a clear-cut definition. For now, only the video of Zuckerberg presenting a sample of a simple environment for people to experience augmented reality is available.

It still remains important to consider exactly why Zuckerberg is doing this with his company right now, especially with all of the testimonies from Haugen that are defaming Facebook. 

Perhaps the company is trying to rebrand, but there is only so far this can go when the newer generation of teenagers and young adults are being actively informed about the dangers of the different Facebook Inc. products. Many people in the tech industry and in the government, like Principal investor and Head Of Content Josh Constine at venture capital fund SignalFire, are also questioning what this name change actually means and whether any reform is even taking place.

“Yes, despite the new name and logo, Meta’s business will likely remain the same as Facebook’s,” said Daniel Howley in an article for Yahoo Finance. “It will make money by tracking your every move to target you with ads.”

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