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WORLD | 29-10-2021 11:25

Facebook’s new name draws critics – but at least it’s not Tronc

The company that runs the world’s largest and most controversial social network has a new name. The reactions ranged from “like” to “angry emoji face.”

The company that runs the world’s largest and most controversial social network has a new name. The reactions ranged from “like” to “angry emoji face.”

On Thursday, Facebook Inc co-founder and Chief Executive Officer Mark Zuckerberg led a 90-minute video presentation about the company’s efforts to build out an immersive digital world known as the metaverse. He capped it off by sharing that his company will henceforth be known as Meta. Its social media services — Instagram, WhatsApp and Facebook itself — will keep their names, but starting in December the company will begin using the stock ticker MVRS.

Many observers took to the internet to weigh in on the name — officially Meta Platforms Inc, in full. Even Twitter Inc CEO Jack Dorsey, who sometimes obliquely critiques his larger rival, offered his thoughts: "Meta: referring to itself or to the conventions of its genre; self-referential," he wrote on his social network.

Robert Scoble, a virtual reality enthusiast renowned in Silicon Valley for being photographed wearing Google Glass in the shower, said on Twitter that it was the "wrong company to sell us the future." Another tweet Scoble surfaced referred to Zuckerberg's presentation as “buzzword vapourware.”

Others active in virtual reality work were less dismissive. Matthew Ball, a strategist and co-leader of the Roundhill Ball Metaverse ETF, which lists on the NYSE as $META, said Facebook's new name is suited for the seismic shift in computing the social network wants to lead. “This isn’t a New Coke situation,” Ball said. “We’re not talking about a new product, but a belief in a fundamentally new plane of human existence.”

He is not upset that Zuckerberg and company lifted the same name. “It's a prefix,” he said. “You can't trademark a prefix.”

Still, others embraced a parallel with cigarette maker Philip Morris, which changed its name to Altria in 2003. “Facebook is following in the footsteps of Big Tobacco after the industry was exposed for its toxic and deadly impact on society,” Mike Davis, president of the Internet Accountability Project, a Facebook critic, said in a statement. “Philip Morris got caught preying on kids, so they became Altria. Facebook got caught preying on kids, so they became Meta.”

US Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, a Democrat of New York, replied similarly: "Meta as in 'we are a cancer to democracy metastasising into a global surveillance and propaganda machine for boosting authoritarian regimes and destroying civil society… for profit!'"

It’s not the first or most radical major corporate rebranding. Some attempts landed better than others. Many renames occurred as the companies, like Facebook, were confronting severe criticism, political pressure and backlash from damning internal documents.

Phillip Morris, of course, changed its name in an attempt to divert public perception from tobacco — its main business — and toward its food products. Verizon Communications Inc — itself created in a rebrand of the company formed in the merger of telecom companies Bell Atlantic and GTE — renamed its AOL and Yahoo properties as Oath, only to re-rebrand them two years later to Verizon Media. 

Perhaps most infamously, Tribune Publishing Co. in 2016 became Tronc, a mashup of the words “Tribune” and “online,” hoping to signal a modernization for the internet age, but that produced so much mockery and ridicule that the publisher changed its name back within two years.

In 2015, Google created a new parent conglomerate, Alphabet Inc, to separate its profitable internet business from its costly futuristic enterprises. Google's co-founders, Larry Page and Sergey Brin, also used the opportunity to appoint a successor to run Google, and eventually retire. Zuckerberg doesn't seem to be doing that. When analyst Ben Thompson asked him if he would appoint a CEO for the Facebook app, in an interview posted on Thursday, Zuckerberg said he still “care[d] deeply about the social media part of what we do.”  

Luc Wathieu, a professor of marketing at Georgetown University’s McDonough School of Business, said Facebook’s new name might help it create some psychological distance from its problems with consumers, though he was sceptical of that strategy’s effectiveness, or whether that was even the point. “I’m not sure that it will reduce any of their current problems,” he said. “They are still built the same way.” 

In a note, Robert W Baird & Co. Inc. analyst Colin Sebastian viewed Zuckerberg’s presentation as lacklustre compared to another famous tech demo. “In 2007, Steve Jobs actually presented an iPhone,” Sebastian wrote. “We'll have to wait longer for the metaverse.”

by Mark Bergen & Clara Molot, Bloomberg

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