With Meta’s early stake in the metaverse, Facebook is deflecting from its murky present. As it prepares to own us again with Virtual Reality (VR) based social media, what could the consequences be?
Facebook has become Meta in its latest move towards rebranding itself. Meta CEO Mark Zuckerberg said the new name, which means ‘beyond’ in Greek, symbolises that there is always more to build and suggests that in time, Facebook will not be the only name customers use when using the company’s other services. Clearly, a deflection from Facebook’s current problems.
Sci-fi author Neal Stephenson defined the term ‘metaverse’ in his 1992 novel, Snow Crash as a three-dimensional world where avatars of actual persons live virtual lives. One of the futuristic predictions is that one day humanity will choose to live in virtual reality by uploading their consciousness to the metaverse, as has been explained well in the National Geographic series Year Million.
Freaky as it sounds, Facebook’s move might be the beginning of that. A virtual reality social space that would ultimately replace today’s social media apps, owned by Meta.
It’s established that interacting on social media elevates dopamine levels, which is also why we get hooked to social media. I wonder how high those levels will go in a metaverse social media?
Meta’s rebranding could become the schism between traditional and modern, and when I say modern, I mean futuristic Black Mirror type modern. I definitely see Meta in the future, it’s not going away. What would future Meta look like though?
Will it be like Nosedive, where a social media company decides everyone’s fate with likes and stars, or like San Junipero, where people can live forever in Meta’s metaverse?
Either way, it looks like Meta will own us.
How Meta is Deflecting from Facebook
Far sighted as this rebranding is, the intention of Facebook is clear, deflection.
Facebook clearly wants to steer away from the affect its old name is starting to have on account of its constant controversies regarding data privacy, and its prioritising of greed over social impact.
The name ‘Facebook’ will even be phased out from products such as video calling device Portal.
Without a doubt, (the Facebook name) is definitely damaged and toxic
Prashant Malaviya, a marketing professor at Georgetown University McDonough School of Business, told Reuters that this indicates the company wants the rest of its apps to have a cleaner feel.
“Without a doubt, (the Facebook name) is definitely damaged and toxic,” he said.
Even as media has been rife with speculation after the move to Meta, Zuckerberg has been keeping things interesting by adding life-like effects in a classical painting through mixed reality.
Captioned ‘This is going to be fun,’ the promotional clip provides audiences with a taste of what awaits in the future metaverse, while they forget Facebook’s present problems of privacy and data protection.
Criticism of the Rebranding
Facebook has been getting much flak from peers and critics for the leaks exposed by whistle blower Frances Haugen, which reveal that the social media giant struggled to contain hate speech and misinformation.
Prominent experts and lawmakers, who aren’t happy with Facebook’s shenanigans so far, are saying changing its name will not deter them from regulatory scrutiny of the potential harm caused by its social media apps, marketing, and branding.
The criticism and mockery haven’t fazed Meta and its team yet, as all of it was expected
According to the Washington Post, Zuckerberg needs to change more than the company’s name.
Zuckerberg and his wife are known for committing almost all of Facebook’s shares to an organisation dedicated to education, immigration reform, criminal justice, public health, and disease prevention.
Still, the CEO hasn’t been able to address the company’s problems despite having ‘a unilateral ability to fix’ them. The Post pointed out four changes Zuckerberg could embrace, which includes ‘eliminating engagement-based ranking algorithms’, ‘support for a federal regulator to audit Facebook’s features and algorithms’, and ‘routine, transparent data disclosures to researchers.’
According to Bloomberg, Facebook could gain from the rebranding if it brings in ‘structural change’.
“From an ethical point of view, Facebook ought to focus on more urgent issues, like cleaning up the swathe of medical and political misinformation on its sites, rather than building a new platform destined to host similar harms.”
The criticism and mockery haven’t fazed Meta and its team yet, as all of it was expected.
What Facebook Could Lose or Meta Could Gain
This isn’t the first time that a company has chosen to rebrand in the face of adversity when all else has failed.
For example, in 2003, cigarette manufacturer Philip Morris Companies Inc. changed to Altria Group and private military company Blackwater USA to Xe Services, then Academi Training Center Inc. Both companies tried a name change to avoid the attention built from an unhealthy past.
The new name also comes with expenses of logo designs, colour changes, and nuances such as the meaning of the name in various languages. After all that, it might still not be a success.
Assuming that the metaverse is inevitable for many spaces, each time people think metaverse, they’ll think Meta. Not only will ‘metaverse’ become almost synonymous with Meta, but people will also soon forget the company’s murky past
Companies such as Gap Inc., Tropicana Products Inc. and the Royal Mail service of UK were forced to reverse their rebranding after it failed.
However, if the rebranding succeeds, Facebook’s plan is to make the metaverse integral to its new branding. This means, assuming that the metaverse is inevitable for many spaces, each time people think metaverse, they’ll think Meta.
Not only will ‘metaverse’ become almost synonymous with Meta, but people will also soon forget the company’s murky past.
As Reuters quoted Zuckerberg, “This is not an investment that is going to be profitable for us any time in the near future. But we basically believe that the metaverse is going to be the successor to the mobile internet.”
If or when that becomes a reality, what would social media feel like?
A Future of Meta Social Media
We have to wonder how technologies like AR/VR are going to work when mixed with the already vulnerable social media. Now that we are aware of what excessive reliance on social media can do to us, we have to try and predict the pitfalls of a metaverse in advance.
The Upload VR asks certain succinct questions about going meta on social media.
“Do you want any person at any time to be able to pull up your Facebook profile just because they saw your face?”
When social media started gaining traction back in the 2000s, we were naïve. We can’t say so now
“Would always-on face-recognition technology change how you behave in public?”
“Does the ability to record your perspective include the right to permanently save, analyze and share the location, actions, conversations, and appearance of the people you see?”
It also asks,
“How do Messenger or WhatsApp exist in a world where four people feel like they are standing together for a conversation but each of them is in a different physical location? Do my Instagram photos adorn my artificially-enhanced walls as I share the couch with a faraway friend and we watch Disney+ together? What happens to the classic Facebook newsfeed?”
When social media started gaining traction back in the 2000s, we were naïve. We can’t say so now.
Meta’s Virtual Reality Plan
Facebook has laid out a host of AR/VR products and features, such as Horizon Home, the first interface the user sees after wearing the Quest headset, will be a place where the user can socialise with others.
Messenger support in VR, which lets users message friends from inside the headset, will boast of audio calls. Other announcements have been in gaming, VR exercise, and services like Slack, Dropbox, Facebook, and Instagram, which are being planned to run in VR as 2D panel apps in Horizon Home, all within the headset.
The company has also spoken of wrist-based electromyography (EMG) input technology that will help control future devices, which will be used to send messages in AR without too much movement.
In September, Facebook’s smart glasses has already been a hit, so that their first fully-fledged AR glasses, Project Nazare, will be a place to watch out for.
This Will Spell the Rise of AR/VR
Meta’s new name could start a new wave of products in the ecosystem, as other players move in to savour the AR/VR pie.
For example, Niantic the gaming company is building an AR platform that allows users to interact with the real world. The company behind Pokémon Go has acquired 6D.ai, an SF-based AR startup that creates software on smartphone cameras that quickly detects the 3D layouts of spaces around them. The company raised almost a half-billion dollars and to create a developer platform for AR that rivals Facebook and Apple.
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Several prominent companies have already branched out in AR/VR. In August, TikTok owner ByteDance acquired Pico, the third-largest VR headset maker worldwide in the Q1 2021, with shipments growth of 44.7% year-on-year, according to IDC.
A Meta World of Lotus Eaters
According to Meta, the day isn’t far when the metaverse will be ruling much of what we do.
“The metaverse will eventually encompass work, entertainment, and everything in between. Like phones and laptops today, our platform needs to be flexible enough to accommodate all these different use cases,” the company said in a blogpost.
There is a sense of lotus eaters like lull that could come as you lose yourself in Meta’s new world and forget about Facebook’s data and privacy issues
There is a sense of lotus eaters like lull that could come as you lose yourself in Meta’s new world and forget about Facebook’s data and privacy issues.
After what FB did to social media, are we still supposed to trust it with the metaverse? We might think it doesn’t matter right now, but that’s how social media started.