o-meta

When Mark Zuckerberg announced that Facebook was rebranding its corporate name to Meta and focusing on the metaverse, a virtual reality space for gaming, social media and office connectivity, the internet immediately gave the rebrand the meme treatment. 

BuzzFeed was quick to round up some of the best reactions, and the response was even captured worldwide, with one Pakistani news channel calling the Twitter reaction a “meme fest.”

More critical users noted the timing of the announcement, which came as Facebook underwent scrutiny for its handling of user data, negative impacts on political polarization and harm done to teenage girls.

The change in branding felt in some ways like a distraction from all of the negative publicity built around the Facebook controversy. By changing names, perhaps the concern surrounding the “Facebook papers” could be left in the past, just like the parent company’s name itself. 

But Twitter users weren’t going to let that happen. Instead, the announcement served to put Facebook, or Meta, right back into the spotlight and welcomed a whole new round of critics, including Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, decrying the rebrand as a meaningless diversion from the real problem at hand. Meanwhile, the official Meta account was asking Balenciaga what the metaverse dress code would be.

I agree with many of Meta and Facebook’s critics that the company has done a poor job of keeping users’ data secure and that Facebook’s algorithms have contributed to political polarization. Far before the recent whistleblower testimonies and the release of the Netflix documentary, The Social Dilemma, I had already assumed that Facebook, and all of social media for that matter, had certain negative influences on society, and I imagine I wasn’t the only one to figure that out.

It would be no less shocking if tomorrow, McDonald’s came under fire because an employee exposed that perhaps eating burgers and fries everyday may not be the best for fast-food customers. 

That’s why I don’t believe that Zuckerberg’s decision to rename his company “Meta” had anything to do with the recent controversy at all.

In fact, if anything, the controversy about Facebook’s past may be the real distraction from Meta’s plan to build the internet’s future with a potentially dangerous business model. 

Ironically, it’s almost as if those most critical of Facebook — or at least those most willing to criticize Facebook publicly on Twitter — have been too distracted by Facebook's past to take Meta’s future seriously.

If a local politician is facing allegations of corruption, a sudden decision to run for a state or national office wouldn’t be dismissed as an insignificant distraction, but rather, a reason to focus efforts on keeping that politician from reaching a higher office.

As its influence migrates from a 2-D world contained within handheld rectangles to a fully immersive experience — an experience which Meta has taken a leading role in creating — the focus should no longer be on criticizing but on curtailing its future.

And there’s good reason to assume that the metaverse will be the future of the internet. Less than a week after Facebook’s rebrand announcement, Microsoft announced plans for its version of the metaverse. Nike has been preparing for digital apparel sales in the metaverse and Meta stock rebounded by nearly 10% since the Oct. 28 rebrand after falling significantly from September highs. 

Sweeping predictions about the future of technology are often wrong, however Google Glass has yet to revolutionize, well, anything about communication in the general public since its release in 2013. However, tech companies have still yet to completely abandon the idea of augmented reality glasses. 

One thing’s for certain: the “metaverse” is still in its infancy, and the direction it takes is easier to influence now than it will be as it becomes more developed.

The right response to those wary of Facebook’s influence on the world is not to write off the rebrand as a distraction from Facebook’s allegations, but rather to recognize the immense power Facebook has in shaping the next iteration of the internet and speak out accordingly.

The metaverse has potential to be a better version of the current internet, though Facebook’s polarizing algorithms and addictive interface also have potential to make it a far more destructive place. 

One concerned college student is no match for a tech giant, but if tech experts put the same energy into creating a healthier metaverse instead of fixating on Facebook’s past flaws, perhaps the future won’t be such a dystopia after all.

Brian Beach is a junior journalism major. Reach him at brianbeach@dailynebraskan.com.