A Meta review: is new always better?

Teens harmed, democracy at risk, and a potentially illegal monopoly – but hey, nothing a shiny new name can’t fix!

Reminiscent of BBC’s The Apprentice, where teams vacuously brainstorm a name that sounds adequately self-important and pretentious, whilst imposing some forced meaning on it, Facebook’s Meta revamp is nothing more than a self-righteous attempt to place themselves back on top.

Facebook have decided to rename and rebrand themselves as Meta – slick, isn’t it? – to encompass the ‘metaverse’, a new virtual world that Zuckerberg assures us we will all one day live in.

Apart from the disturbing undertones of the concept itself, does Zuckerberg really think that a new name can distract from the inordinate amount of bad press the company have received in the past year? 

In 2020 the Federal Trade Commission attempted to sue Facebook for having an illegal monopoly and accusing them of “buy-to-bury” tactics. Whilst Facebook strongly denies this, the FTC remains relentless in its attempts to keep the case open.  Not only this, but Facebook was also hit by a tidal wave of negative press after a whistle blower released a series of internally conducted reports. Whistle-blower Frances Haugen stated in a congressional hearing that Facebook “harm children, stoke division and weaken our democracy” referring to the reports released that show Facebook’s sites promoting extreme content, inciting ethnic and social violence, and destabilising societies. Whilst its sites are also toxic for teenagers’ body image, VIPs are omitted from its usual rule enforcement.

If Zuckerberg thought his over embellished keynote with visions of holograms attending concerts and chatting in virtual conference rooms would be enough to distract from all the bad press, he was sorely mistaken. But this appearance-first attitude isn’t new. Facebook has a history of highlighting issues and appearing to solve them while, in reality, doing next to nothing. A case in point is Project Daisy. After reports emerged of Instagram being a toxic platform, Instagram trialled out the option to remove like counts and comments from posts. This was subsequently rolled out, not because the trial was a success (it wasn’t) but because Facebook believed it would keep them in the good books of parents and press alike, as revealed in a presentation leaked to the Wall Street Journal.

In Zuckerberg’s all-too-convenient announcement, standing behind various sparklingly clean backdrops, while Facebook’s old name is dragged through the mud, he tells us about his vision for the metaverse. But the vague descriptions of future tech address none of the issues that first brought Facebook its unwanted attention. In fact, Zuckerberg’s attempt would almost be laughable, if the consequences of his inaction didn’t seem so sinister.

In his keynote Zuckerberg tells us – with what he must think is a reassuring smile but is actually more of a grimace – that the metaverse (whatever it may look like) is years away. He assures us that this will allow policy makers to catch up and ensure safety standards – something the more optimistic of us might hope Facebook do for themselves. Sadly, his promises of a utopia where “open standards and safety will be built into the metaverse from day one” are about as convincing as his vision of people putting on a VR headset and headbanging to Royal Blood when they’re actually at their granny’s funeral.

As Frances Haugen put it, “Facebook is prioritising future growth over our safety, and that is unacceptable”. The creation of a metaverse brings even more dangers – if we really are to have holograms of ourselves attending meetings, this will likely require the use of sensors and our bodies’ biometric data. Zuckerberg also promises a metaverse that anyone can build and add to, but if Facebook can’t keep its users safe on two-dimensional platforms, then surely one that uses our bodies in a virtual reality is even more terrifying.

If Zuckerberg wants to move on from Facebook’s bad press, he needs to innovate real change. Facebook needs to ensure safety for its users, and be explicit in explaining how measures are implemented – not distracting users with a new logo and an inflated ego. 

Photo via Pixabay

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