As reports swarmed in about Facebook — the parent company that owns the eponymous app, Instagram, and WhatsApp along with a host of other digital products — changing its name, one thing became clear. Mark Zuckerberg and the powers that be at the company realise they have an image problem. What they seem to not quite grasp is that the PR issue stems from an actual one.
The ostensible reason for the imminent change in nomenclature is the launch of “metaverse” — the pivot to virtual reality that will be integral to the future of Facebook Inc and, likely, the internet as a whole. In essence, Facebook sees virtual reality and more immersive experiences as the next step in its evolution. The company has already announced that it will hire around 10,000 high-end professionals in Europe to help create the platform of the future. Given this expansion, “Facebook” might be too limiting a name. Just as Google rechristened its holding company “Alphabet” as the range of its products expanded, Facebook too will want the parent company to represent more than a single — even if it is the flagship — product.
The needs of a futuristic metaverse aside, the fact is that, in all likelihood, the company does not want its expansion to be tainted by controversies it is currently mired in. The most recent revelations by whistleblower Frances Haugen show how little it cares for certain people, communities and markets. Perhaps, before expanding virtual reality — adding depth and scale to the addictions that its algorithms promote — it might do well to address the structural deficiencies in its amoral business model. If Facebook actually fixes all it has broken, perhaps it wouldn’t need to change its name.
This editorial first appeared in the print edition on October 21, 2021 under the title ‘Name game’.
Correction: An earlier version of this article incorrectly mentioned LinkedIn among the digital products owned by Facebook. The error is regretted.