The Promise of the Metaverse
The Promise of the Metaverse
Opinion: What Facebook Rebranding to META Really Means
By Alice Martin
Ever since October 28th, your sharp eye might have noticed that upon opening Instagram or Facebook, something in the loading screen changed. Paired with an infinity logo in the shape of an M, the “From META” caption at the bottom has raised a few eyebrows. However, META is nothing more than an extension of Facebook. I said nothing more, but that’s for now.
A History of Rebranding
Facebook has never been scared of rebranding and redesigning, but this would be, by a long shot, the most ambitious rebrand yet. Facebook’s most recognizable logo, with the lowercase white “f” over a deep blue background has existed since 2005. However, it has suffered a few changes over the years.
In 2015, Facebook changed its font to a much rounder one, and the characteristic blue became lighter. One could say it became less aggressive, softer, more modern, and in touch with the time.
In 2019, the colors were inverted, and the blue of the letters was much brighter. This logo, which lasted until October 28th, was the epitome of softness, being generic, but not nearly as generic as an infinity symbol.
The rebranding itself to META doesn’t imply much structural change to the company’s inner hierarchy, considering CEO Mark Zuckerberg remains in control of all Facebook-related operations. The concept of a “parent-company” is the only concrete change. META, as a parent-company, now encompasses all the other companies that Facebook has previously owned, including Instagram, WhatsApp, Messenger, Facebook itself, and Oculus, META’s virtual reality company that it acquired in 2014. Oculus will be crucial in the development of what META aims to be.
META’s Mission Statement and the Origins of the Metaverse
The real reason behind Facebook's change to META is rooted in an evolution of Facebook’s mission statement. If Facebook was all about social connections, META aims to take these social connections a step further: Into the metaverse! META’s name didn’t fall from the sky, nor did META invent the concept of the metaverse as many people think it did.
The metaverse is a science-fiction concept first coined by author Neal Stephenson in his satirical and dystopian book Snow Crash in 1992. In his novel, the metaverse is represented as a huge virtual reality urban environment accessed through virtual goggles. Other instances of the metaverse in popular culture includes Steven Spielberg’s 2018 film Ready Player One, another dystopian story about corporate greed where the audience and the main character of Wade fear the dominance of the OASIS, the movie’s metaverse, by one single company. Sound familiar?
While these two works are of a dystopian nature, the metaverse itself isn’t inherently dystopian. It is rather seen as the pinnacle of the internet, where shared virtual and real worlds collide, through VR headsets, for example.
This is where Oculus comes in. META’s real chance at developing a metaverse is through headsets like the Rift, the Quest, and the most recent, which was recently unveiled: Project Cambria. Like in Snow Crash or Ready Player One, META is determined to make everything possible in the metaverse, like living, working and, as is already possible, playing.
The Heat of Competition
The problem with META’s vision of the metaverse is that it’s a highly ambitious project that will likely only take form in a few decades. For now, META is only a promise, a commitment towards building a functional, unified, useful, and well-developed metaverse using a combination of all of META’s platforms. So, if META doesn’t currently have the technology to build the metaverse to the height of their vision and, most importantly, the technology to make it accessible to everyone, why are they rebranding so soon?
First, META is undeniably starting to feel the heat of competition, and if they don’t, they should. Although they seem hell-bent on appropriating the metaverse and on branding themselves to be the sole actor in the building of metaverses, it is to be noted that many companies are also heavily involved in the creation of these cyberspaces, and they have been for a while now.
Some of these companies like Nike, Dyson and Roblox just started to dabble in metaverses; however, Epic Games, the creators of Fortnite, is far ahead and has a vision that differs from what Facebook has traditionally been doing before changing to META. First of all, Epic wants social interactions in the metaverse to be bigger than “likes” and comments and to move away from traditional ads. Sima Sistani, the co-founder of the now-extinct social media platform Houseparty (once owned by Epic), emphasizes that the new generation of social media will likely be more about participating than the preceding one, which was more about sharing. This is Epic Games’ mission statement.
Epic Games has also made some major moves in their own metaverse that exists within their hit game, Fortnite. The “Party Royale” Mode has housed a few major concerts from artists like Marshmello, Travis Scott, and Ariana Grande.
Microsoft’s advancements can’t be overlooked either. Microsoft Mesh is Microsoft’s metaverse in which it hopes to connect people together and to make collaborating easier for colleagues who work together time-zones apart, as Microsoft publicizes it. To support its metaverse, Microsoft also has its own VR Headsets as well as the HoloLens.
If Microsoft has more of a working angle in mind, Epic Games orients itself towards gaming. And META? Well, they are all about socializing.
Rebranding As a Distraction
The second reason that could explain Facebook’s rush to rebrand to META is the criticism they’ve endured since 2018.
2018 marked a rough year for Facebook’s reputation. By the end of that year, every Facebook user became all too conscious that their beloved platform, once used for connecting with long lost high school friends, had a hidden dark side.
The Cambridge Analytica scandal was among the first of many mistakes that Facebook made during that year. When the data analytics firm decided to work hand-in-hand with a university researcher that made a fake personality quiz, it gathered data from 87 million Facebook users without their consent.
Cambridge Analytica also had close ties with Donald Trump’s 2016 presidential campaign and took part in the creation of what it calls “psychographic”, or personality, profiles of voters, which help target ads.
Now, this wasn’t Facebook’s only data breach scandal. In September of 2018, Facebook tackled another security breach that exposed the data of another 30 million Facebook users.
Unfortunately, Facebook’s weaknesses do not only lie in their users’ privacy. Facebook has been implicated in a wide range of scandals, from fake news and misinformation, to foreign interference in the 2016 presidential elections, while simultaneously promoting hate speech through its algorithms.
Every day, it’s becoming clearer and clearer that Facebook’s place in society is growing, but their accountability towards their social responsibilities isn’t. Frances Haugen, the latest Facebook whistleblower, and a former product manager there, testified on October 5th, 2021 before the US Congress. Amongst her other powerful statements, she revealed from her experience at Facebook that “it is clear that Facebook prioritizes profit over the well-being of all users”. Even if, by saying it, she rendered that information concrete, it feels like old news.
Could Facebook have created META to distance itself from the negative perspectives people have come to have on Facebook? In that sense, was the 2019 rebranding just a way to escape from the scandals that stained Facebook’s reputation in 2018? Granted, when a company rebrands, it is usually done to create a better image of itself. However, let’s not forget that this image is based on nothing but promises that META has no obligation to fulfill other than to realize the prophecy of their new name.
What if, instead of rebranding to distract people, Facebook took the opportunity to address their wrong doings? What if they used the rebranding to actively—and concretely—work towards being better socially, which many of the 2.91 billion monthly Facebook users would be psyched about?
The metaverse itself is something to look forward to, and what all the different companies involved in its creation are proposing is definitely interesting. To think that there’s soon going to be a way to connect with friends and colleagues to an almost lifelike extent even though they might be thousands of miles away is exhilarating.
If it weren’t for everything that Facebook has been responsible for and their history that makes them untrustworthy, everyone would be in awe with this innovation in technology. However, until it becomes clear that Facebook wants to take concrete actions towards its existing problems, it’ll be hard to be completely excited for META new endeavours.
Here’s to hoping the metaverse is more than just a dystopia represented in science-fiction.
Author’s note: A special thanks to Bérengère Marin Dubuard, Profile Coordinator of the Interactive Media Arts profile in ALC, for helping me navigate this awfully broad topic and for giving me the resources I needed to understand exactly what the metaverse is about, as well as who the key players are. You are a wonderful professor.