Image Courtesy of Forbes

By Angela Hickey

After the scandals surrounding Facebook with the release of The Facebook Papers, Mark Zuckerberg decided to separate the company from its past transgressions, completely rebranding the social media platform under a new name: Meta.

The new name was designed to reflect a focus beyond Facebook solely as a social network platform, and into the “metaverse”—the extension of the internet into three-dimensional virtual reality (VR) spaces. 

According to Zuckerberg, the metaverse will rely on augmented and virtual-reality tech, representing a path away from the company’s existing problems, and in turn attempting to make Facebook bigger than ever. The site is already attracting over three billion users worldwide, but its main problem has always been attracting the young. 

Interest in Facebook from the younger generations has eroded over the last decade, and the increasing antitrust attention around Facebook means it cannot buy its way out of this problem by picking up some promising new rival, as it did with Instagram and attempted to do with Snapchat and TikTok.

Zuckerberg acknowledged Facebook’s struggle to maintain popularity with the younger demographic. 

“We’re retooling our tools to make young adults our northstar,” he said on a conference call with Forbes, while also acknowledging this would come at the expense of older users. The latter group is a problematic base of support for Facebook—too aged for advertisers and too prone to sharing the misinformation that has landed the company in boiling-hot water.

When Facebook was first developed, it was just one of a collection of social network websites, viewed to be a frivolous part of social life. The main function of the site seemed to be that you could keep up with what your college roommate was having for lunch. Over time, the site evolved to become a place where people could maintain large swaths of social connections, engage in community groups, and access social support and information with a wide, networked audience.

Facebook capitalized on a key component of humanity: the social interactions that make up the fabric of our everyday lives. Yet, as the site evolved, it became clear that those who were in a position to consider how it might fundamentally change how our society engages with one another did not take it seriously; they were treating it as a passing fad and using it for citizen surveillance. 

In Facebook’s vision of the metaverse, it describes the concept as an all-encompassing system. There is “Horizon Home” for social interactions and “Quest for Business” as a replacement for phone and video conferencing. Gyms become fitness applications, entertainment is provided by games, and there is immersive educational content. All of this can be accessed by users through the Oculus headset.

“If you’re in the metaverse, you’ll need digital clothes and digital tools and different experiences,” Zuckerberg told analysts. “Our goal is to help the metaverse reach a billion people and billions of dollars in commerce in the next decade.” 
Establishing “this foundational platform will be a long road,” Zuckerberg said, warning Wall Street of a potential loss for Reality Labs for years to come.

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