Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg announced the social media giant will change the name of its holding company to Meta, in a rebrand that comes as the company faces a series of public relations crises.
Zuckerberg made the announcement at the Facebook’s annual conference Thursday, where he outlined his vision for the metaverse – a digital world built over our own, comprising virtual reality headsets and augmented reality. “We believe the metaverse will be the successor of the mobile internet,” Zuckerberg said.
The new holding company Meta will encompass Facebook, its largest subsidiary, as well as apps such as Instagram, WhatsApp and the virtual reality brand Oculus.
Facebook has invested $10bn in its metaverse project in 2021 – double what it spends on safety and security on the platform. In recent earnings reports, the company announced its virtual reality segment had grown so substantially it would now report its revenue separately, dividing its products into two categories.
Those categories include a “family of apps” including Facebook, Instagram, Messenger and WhatsApp, and the “reality labs” products including AR and VR as well as any related hardware.
In a presentation from his home, Zuckerberg outlined his vision of the metaverse as a digital world in which users will feel they are with one another and have a “sense of presence” despite being far apart. The platform would allow users to customize their avatars and digital spaces, decorating a digital office with pictures, videos and even books.
“When I send my parents a video with my kids, they’re going to feel like they’re right in the moment with us not peering through a little window,” he said.
The presentation imagined users inviting friends over virtually, two people attending a concert together despite being across the world from one another, and colleagues making work presentations remotely.
“We believe the metaverse will be the successor to the mobile internet. We’ll be able to feel present – like we’re right there with people no matter how far apart we actually are,” he said. “We’ll be able to express ourselves in new joyful, completely immersive ways.
“The best way to understand the metaverse is to experience it yourself,” Zuckerberg added, though adding “it doesn’t fully exist yet”.
Still, Zuckerberg said, Facebook rolled out two of its metaverse projects in beta last year: Horizon World, which allows users to invite friends over into their digital world, and Horizon Workrooms, which does the same in professional settings. He also said Facebook plans to further explore NFTs and crypto to help facilitate media that can be represented digitally, and is working on gaming applications.
Facebook announced its name change amid ongoing regulatory and PR challenges. Those include a series of recent reports based on documents leaked by the whistleblower Frances Haugen that exposed toxic business practices and internal knowledge of its longterm negative public health impact.
The revelations are just the latest struggle for the embattled company, which has in recent years been served with a lawsuit from the Federal Trade Commission (FTC), was the subject of numerous congressional hearings, and in 2019 was fined $5bn by the Federal Trade Commission in 2019 for “deceiving” users.
Critics of the platform contended on Thursday that the metaverse project is a distraction from the company’s PR crisis, and that the company risks making the same mistakes as it has in the past.
“The fact that Zuckerberg has set his sights firmly on the so-called ‘metaverse’ while societies all over the world are scrambling to alleviate the myriad harms caused by his platforms just goes to show how out of touch Facebook is with real people,” said Imran Ahmed, CEO of the Center for Countering Digital Hate.
In her recent testimony, Haugen said she was “shocked” to hear how much the company was investing in the metaverse while its safety efforts failed. The company has dedicated $10bn in 2021 to the metaverse while its safety division received $5bn in funding.
“To echo Frances Haugen’s words, just imagine what Facebook could achieve if it devoted even a fraction of its metaverse investment on proper content moderation to enforce even the most basic standards of truth, decency and progress,” Ahmed said.
Zuckerberg on Thursday tried to get ahead of such privacy and security concerns. Nick Clegg, the company’s vice-president of global affairs, acknowledged that the company has faced criticism for not envisioning the long-term impacts of its problems.
“We have years until the metaverse as we envision it is fully realized. This is the beginning of the journey,” he said.
Rumors of the rebrand have been rumbling since the US tech news site the Verge reported the impending change on 20 October.