Facebook (the corporation, not the social media site) is going for a rebrand. Announced in late October, the company will now be known as Meta. A term most famously used to ironically define inside jokes as intellectual or “deep.” Meta, most likely, will also wind up as nothing more than a joke. Sure, Mark Zuckerburg will be willing to throw tens of billions into building his new venture, but Facebook’s ability to get worse year after year doesn’t instill confidence that this will be any different.
It is that slow fall in public perception that has led to the Meta rename. Over the summer, Facebook was in the news for a whistleblower coming forth with documents showing some pretty disgusting practices from the social media giant. One report showed that Facebook knew that Instagram damaged teens self-esteem and they tried to find ways to make sure that lowered self-respect could help Facebook, with little care to the collateral damage it would cause its teenage users. A more recent report showed Facebook planned recruitment programs for users as young as six to combat the loss of teenage users.
These negative stories aren’t new either. For years Facebook has been a breeding ground for political polarization. Study after study has shown that the proprietary algorithm encourages this type of extremism and rewards accounts that continue to push such one sided or fake news stories. The Cambridge Analytica scandal being the most obvious example that Facebook has been an active cause (though not the sole cause) in the conversion of our political world into a theater of nonsense extremes.
Zuckerburg, being the cocky entrepreneur he is, decided to go with the most obvious strategy, pivot. Not only does a name change provide a new and less negative conversation to take place, it should also help cover up some of Facebook’s weaknesses. Meta will now be obviously bigger than Zuckerburg’s college project turned global phenomena. Zuckerburg hopes to combine the current group of Facebook technologies (social media, virtual reality, and video conferencing) into a new “Metaverse.” With sights set on creating something greater than the internet and as addicting as cocaine, Zuckerburg is prepared to drag humanity into a dystopian nightmare.
Here Comes Meta
A short definition of the Metaverse is “a boundless, 3D digital world accessed as easily as the internet, where we do things like hang out in a park, play a game, see a concert or suffer through a work conference.” Zuckerburg’s hope is to combine the Oculus VR headsets and a virtual social media world allowing people to fully explore a virtual world. You know, like the Matrix. Luckily I don’t think we’ll have to worry about such a future.
More than likely, Meta won’t bring us much farther than Wii Sports characters ever did. The cartoon avatar that Nintendo introduced over a decade ago has seen many different companies attempt to jump into the fold. Bitmoji had its run as a text/meme app for a few years. Microsoft Teams now lets you appear as a personal avatar on camera for meetings on days when you can’t be bothered to look presentable. What tends to be a fun way for users to express themselves doesn’t really have much staying power.
The worst case scenario for Facebook has almost certainly been covered by a science fiction writer. Whether it be the full inclusion first described in Neuromancer or the developmentally limited humans from Wall-E or a sexually uncomfortable episode of Black Mirror. We already spend too much time surfing the web today. What would happen if we could fully immerse ourselves? Luckily, the show Futurama showed us exactly what this would look like over 20 years ago. It’s possible we could get technologically close to this level, too bad Facebook can only pervert it.