Facebook, like a handful of cigarette, agrochemical, and private-mercenary conglomerates before it, has changed its corporate name in the midst of a PR crisis: On Thursday, Oct. 28, CEO Mark Zuckerberg announced that the tech giant’s parent company would now be known as Meta.
Zuckerberg announced the name change at the end of his keynote address to open Facebook Connect, an annual conference for AR/VR developers and creators. Zuckerberg said the name-change decision reflected the company’s desire to refocus around “metaverse” experiences and services, expanding from traditional social media to immersive virtual environments, e-commerce developments, and gaming.
“Our mission remains the same — it’s still about bringing people together,” Zuckerberg said. “But now we have a new North Star, to help bring the metaverse to life, and we have a new name that reflects the full breadth of what we do and the future that we want to help build.”
What was, obviously, not mentioned in the keynote was the fact that the name change arrives on the heels of a disastrous deluge of bad PR for Facebook. Back in September, The Wall Street Journal began publishing a series reports based on a trove of internal documents that chronicled the extent to which the company was aware of the damage its platforms — which also include Instagram and WhatsApp — were causing, from aiding the spread of misinformation to exacerbating self-esteem issues in teenage girls. Those internal documents were later shared with other news outlets, which uncovered additional details about everything from Facebook’s “piecemeal” enforcement of misinformation in the lead-up to the Jan. 6 Capitol riot, to the minimal effort that went in to stopping the spread of violent rhetoric in Ethiopia and India.
Zuckerberg didn’t touch on these issues during his keynote, in which he claimed that privacy and safety would remain key tenets as Facebook expanded into the metaverse: “These have to be fundamental building blocks,” he said.
Facebook certainly isn’t the first tech company to change its corporate name: Google’s parent company became Alphabet in 2015, while Snapchat shortened its name to Snap Inc. the following year. The proximity between the Facebook-Meta name change and the “Facebook Files” leaks, however, doesn’t exactly give the decision an innocuous air. Rather it’s more reminiscent of tobacco giant Philip Morris rebranding as Altria; or the pharmaceutical conglomerate Bayer discontinuing the Monsanto name after purchasing the agrochemical business in 2018; or the notorious private-military company Blackwater cycling through two different names in as many years, first rebranding as Xe Services in 2009, before settling on Academi in 2011.