Facebook is rebranding. CEO Mark Zuckerberg announced the company is now going to be known as Meta.
“The word ‘meta’ comes from the Greek word meaning ‘beyond.’ It symbolizes that there is always more to build, and there is always a next chapter to the story,” Zuckerberg said in the announcement Thursday. The move is meant to focus attention on the company’s efforts to build a virtual world known as the metaverse.
Perhaps a welcome pivot for the company, given all the attention on its main moneymaker, the social media platform people love to hate. Especially in light of internal research leaked to the press that included revelations of Facebook’s negative effects on the mental health of teenagers, democracies around the world and the way people communicate with each other.
Jeff Horwitz is a reporter for The Wall Street Journal who first reported the leaks. I asked him about the company’s focus on the metaverse in the context of everything else going on. The following is an edited transcript of our conversation.
Jeff Horwitz: It’s a strange thing for a company that, I think we’re all grappling with sort of how significant its real world impacts are and how suboptimal they have been, according to the company’s own work. And at the same time, it’s kind of just saying, “Peace out. We’re gonna go do something else now,” which is a pretty remarkable thing. And I think it’s just interesting where the company’s attention lies.
Kimberly Adams: Do you think this is more of a deflection strategy than a real thing?
Horwitz: No, no, no, they’re really into this. They really, really are into the metaverse. And I mean, that’s where all the resources have been going for years, right? I mean, there have been shortages of engineers on integrity teams. There’ve been shortages of engineers in a whole bunch of places. There has not been a shortage of engineers in the metaverse. And, you know, they are really devoted to this. And I think this is something where Mark, I think, sees the company’s work as visionary. So it’s not a deflection, I don’t think — it’s where the company and Mark personally wishes to be spending his time.
Adams: It feels like such an onslaught where there’s just a shocking Facebook story every single day. For people who might be a little bit overwhelmed by this, what’s been the biggest takeaway for you so far?
Horwitz: All of the things that everyone, that we and I think everyone else has been writing about, these are all things that people kind of generally suspected of social media. We kind of knew that moderation systems weren’t everything they were billed as. We knew that the overseas issues were significant. We knew that there might be some problems [with] mental health. But I think, seeing the specifics of it, and seeing, in particular, how Facebook’s own systems play into it, I think is really revelatory. Like, this isn’t, these aren’t things that sort of just have to be the case. This isn’t just like a reflection of the outside world that we’re just looking at because it’s all available for us to see. This is a question of design, and the problems that Facebook has aren’t inevitable. And I think that’s the thing that’s really powerful about this, is that, one, that they quantified it, two, that they actually have found ways to significantly mitigate things that they haven’t done.
Adams: On Tuesday, there are going to be people around the country voting. I’m here in D.C., there’s a big election happening in Virginia. Anything you’re going to be watching on Facebook, in particular, to see what happens?
Horwitz: Yeah, I mean, in the U.S., honestly, this is the thing that they’re most careful about, I think. Look, if you’re watching Facebook and seeing strange things happening on the platforms, and it’s not just Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, etc. And you are getting upset about the platforms next Tuesday or any other time, just keep in mind, in the U.S. you are getting literally the best version of the platform of anyone in the world. And whatever Facebook is doing here may or may not be enough, but it’s sure a hell of a lot more than what’s happening elsewhere.
Adams: Wow. So if we think Facebook and elections is a problem here, you know, try it out in a different country.
Horwitz: Yeah. I mean, they are spending the overwhelming majority of their resources on a country that is a small fraction of their user base.
Adams: At the beginning of all of this, you were the only person who knew that Frances Haugen was the one who leaked these documents and had this information that she wanted to share with the world. And now she’s testifying in front of the U.K. Parliament and others. What has it been like for you watching that process?
Horwitz: So it’s, it’s been a little weird, since this started out with just me, and then my editor, and then me and my editor and my really awesome team of colleagues that I worked with on the “Facebook Files” stuff. And now it’s a much broader thing. And I think something that Frances, I think is really committed to shepherding this stuff and sort of trying to be helpful in terms of its understandings facilitation. Obviously, she’s got “Advocate” in her Twitter bio at this point. So, it’s kind of a different role, but I think it’s, it’s great the stuff is making it out to a broader audience. Obviously, it’s been a little hectic in the last week or two, but I’m really hoping that all this stuff makes it to the broader public and academics and so forth, even more than it already has, and I guess just it’s exciting to see this stuff still carries a punch.
Related links: More insight from Kimberly Adams
When Mark Zuckerberg announced the name change, it was at the end of his keynote at Facebook’s developer conference. And in true tech CEO style, he started the announcement by saying, “And there’s one more thing I want to tell you about today.”
And if you haven’t already, check out The Wall Street Journal’s “Facebook Files” coverage and accompanying podcast.
Make sure to check in with “Marketplace Tech” next week, when we’ll have a conversation about what it means for a business like Facebook to change its name. And how much words matter when it comes to Big Tech.
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