Big news: Facebook is going to change its name

Facebook HQ
Image: IDGNS

Don't worry, it's in service of an all-encompassing virtual universe, says Billy MacInnes

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Billy

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21 October 2021 | 0

I must admit my first reaction was to wonder why. There is nothing inherently negative about the name Facebook, it doesn’t sound or seem very sinister. Not on the surface at any rate. True, there are characteristics of the social media platform and how it operates that can appear very sinister indeed but the name itself doesn’t really suggest anything disquieting or menacing.

Nevertheless, according to a report in The Verge, the new name could be revealed very soon. It may well already be public by the time you read this. At time of writing, there seemed to be some speculation around it having “something to do with Horizon” (otherwise known as Not Facebook).

The main impetus for the change appears to be an attempt to move the company beyond its social media roots towards a much sexier future built on the Metaverse, AR and VR. Metaverse means beyond the universe but while some of the content on Facebook bears little connection to objective reality, I’m not sure creating a whole new universe is going to overcome that problem.

 

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In a joint article on the company website entitled Building the Metaverse Responsibly published in September, Facebook CTO Andrew Bosworth and VP of global affairs Nick Clegg defined it as “a set of virtual spaces where you can create and explore with other people who aren’t in the same physical space as you. You’ll be able to hang out with friends, work, play, learn, shop, create and more”.

One benefit of the name change will be to steer the company away from the negative stories associated with Facebook, such as the recent revelations by whistleblower Frances Haugen that it puts profits before people and promotes toxicity. In her testimony to Congress, she stated: “Left alone, Facebook will continue to make choices that go against the common good. Our common good.”

Haugen cited documents she had provided to Congress which she claimed “prove that Facebook has repeatedly misled the public about what its own research reveals about the safety of children, the efficacy of its artificial intelligence systems and its role in spreading divisive and extreme messages”.

In response, Mark Zuckerberg, still Facebook CEO, stated: “Many of the claims don’t make any sense. I think most of us just don’t recognise the false picture of the company that is being painted.” To be fair, a lot of people looking at Facebook have difficulty getting a true picture of anything.

Still, what better way to drown out most of that negativity than a big splash about a new name and exciting developments that will take users on a journey beyond Facebook?

The reassuring news for us all is Facebook intends to build the Metaverse responsibly. Those people feeling any level of disquiet need only consider what a great job it’s done with social media to set their mind at ease.

If there are still some doubters, they should have their concerns assuaged by Bosworth and Clegg’s assurance that the company (whether it’s Horizon, Not Facebook, or something else) will “work with experts in government, industry and academia to think through issues and opportunities in the Metaverse”.

Better still, it recognises the “need to involve the human rights and civil rights communities from the start to ensure these technologies are built in a way that’s inclusive and empowering”.

Sounds great. I think someone ought to tell Facebook so it can make the necessary adjustments to its social media platform. How about those people at Horizon (Not Facebook), maybe they could help?

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