Can Facebook’s move to Meta stop the company from being stuck in the past?

Facebook Meta Mark Zuckerberg russia misinformation

Source: AP/Eric Risberg.

Mark Zuckerberg really wants you to pay attention to Meta and not Facebook.

At Facebook’s annual conference on Friday morning Australian time, the tech company’s ruler announced it was rebranding to Meta and showed off its ideas for a “3D social space”.

Zuckerberg’s focus on its new things is understandable in a way. Even if you’d never heard of the company before last week’s Facebook Papers, you’d still probably think it needed a fresh start. Something exciting like the promise of a new virtual world where anything is possible. Something that sounded like an idea out of a science-fiction novel (which, by the way, is where it got the name).

In another way, it’s deeply repugnant that the company continues to habitually deny or downplay its role in making the world much worse while making billions upon billions of dollars. It’s facilitated genocide. It’s been part of the radicalisation of huge numbers of people. It’s amplified hate and misinformation. And it’s done all this knowing that it’s doing this.

The PR moves of a company like Facebook are endlessly fascinating because they’re obvious and intriguing. We love being savvy and dissecting “narratives” and “spin”. When Zuckerberg said, “Right now, our brand is so tightly linked to one product that it can’t possibly represent everything that we’re doing today, let alone in the future,” it’s hard not to imagine this as as wishful thinking.

It’s also fair to point out that Meta, so far, is just vapourware. All the carefully workshopped uses that Zuckerberg awkwardly showcased don’t exist. Footage that’s supposed to show how Meta will blend the real world and virtual reality are just edited versions of reality. Ironically, what Facebook chose to showcase isn’t real — and may never be.

The idea of betting against incredible advances in technology isn’t wise. It’s been 14 years since the iPhone was invented, changing every facet of our lives. It’s also been 17 years since Facebook was invented, and look at everything it’s been able to do! It’s more than conceivable that at some point, potentially soon, potentially even from Facebook, we will see a widespread adoption of virtual and augmented reality technologies.

What the decision should be viewed as is an attempt by Facebook to plant its flag as the company of the future and not Boomerbook with an ageing user base. It’s not about optics — it’s about a promised new era in technology where Facebook hopes to be the first mover.

The problems that the company has shown aren’t necessarily inherent to the platform itself, but its enormous bureaucracy struggling to solve the problems that its scale and its autocratic leader have created. Whether you call it Facebook, Meta, or whatever, this tech giant will still be the same company.

Even if you take a step back from the company itself, problems with other tech platforms show the limit of the internet built around a handful of powerful companies who make their money by selling access to their users.

If we are headed into a new age of technology, there’s an opportunity to rewrite the rules and change the balance of power. It didn’t take long for Myspace to go from being the biggest thing online to being a thing of the past.

If Meta is the future, Facebook has shown that it shouldn’t be part of it.

This article was first published by Crikey

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