Facebook, if nothing else, is good at diverting attention away from itself and its pesky public relations nightmares. It doesn’t matter how bad things get – they know that everything becomes the proverbial fish wrap in time.
Do you even remember that it was not even a week ago when The Facebook Papers dominated the media cycle? Me neither! I had already forgotten what it was all about. The slush of repetitive media coverage based on internal documents was nothing more than just a public relations headache.
It was an easily solved problem. Change the company’s name (start with a careful leak,) throw in some vision, whip up a slick video, and then on the day of the annual developer conference, rename yourself, Meta. Facebook’s new name comes from Metaverse, which according to its CEO Mark Zuckerberg is the future of the internet where you are “in the experience, not just looking at it,” and “it will touch every product we build.”
Even if you believe that Zuckerberg has been thinking about this for a few years — I don’t have any doubts about it — the timing of this announcement is expedient and shows that they are and will be masters of media manipulation.
“It is a political strategy too, part of a broader push to rehabilitate the company’s reputation with policymakers and reposition Facebook to shape the regulation of next-wave Internet technologies, according to more than a dozen current and former Facebook employees,” reported The Washington Post. It will allow the company to “turn the conversation away from such urgent but distasteful matters as the massive antitrust lawsuit filed last year by the Federal Trade Commission.”
All this talk about Metaverse is an excellent way to refocus the attention to the future and away from its present problems. A video that essentially uses a video-game-like interface, Facebook can wash its hands off reality and whatever toxicity of the reality. After all, it is all just a game. You can’t be any angrier about fake information being shared in the metaverse than you can be angry about running over someone in grand theft auto.
Strategically, the decision makes sense as well. Facebook needs to be independent of hardware and operating system platform owners, Apple and Google. The recent brouhaha with Apple over tracking and privacy has exposed the vulnerability of Facebook’s advertising business. All this talk about the Metaverse and billions of dollars in spending on new hardware-centric opportunities is an excellent signal to Wall Street that they have a strategy to keep the stock flying in the future. It also allows the company to achieve its long-standing goals — a single sign-on for all its products — Facebook, WhatsApp, and Instagram. “I think it’s helpful for people to have a relationship with a company that is different from the relationship with any a specific one of the products, that can kind of supersede all of that,” Zuckerberg told The Verge.
That said, it doesn’t solve the one big hairy problem: young people don’t give a shit about Facebook, no matter what banner they hang outside their headquarters. “Facebook was invented on campus for people to get laid, “a long-time observer of the social media sector quipped. “Meta was invented in a conference room.” The person pointed out that Metaverse demos are what they think is “cool” based on research reports
“It’s a stretch to believe Facebook can make that work, especially for a company that has shown little development in the nearly ten years since IPO,” wrote Tiernan Ray, a veteran technology writer, in his critique of the big VR bet by Facebook. “There is no evidence the company can organically innovate its way out of being mainly the Web site for old people, as Zuckerberg now characterizes his creation.”