On October 28th, Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg announced that the company was rebranding. While the app and social media platform will continue to be known as Facebook, the parent company that owns a variety of social media platforms and software technologies will be known as Meta, demonstrating the tech giant’s commitment to developing the “metaverse.”
A term first coined in Neal Stephenson’s novel Snow Crash, metaverse refers to an idea for the future of the internet, which would be hosted on a decentralized virtual reality platform in which people participate as avatars that can move between spaces hosted by a variety of companies, governments, and entities. The concept has been featured in a variety of science fiction content, and several other companies besides Meta have expressed interest in expanding on the concept, including Roblox, Epic Games, and Microsoft.
Many are commenting that the announcement comes at an odd time, as Facebook is currently facing antitrust prosecution from Congress and it’s been only a few weeks since a whistleblower released internal documents revealing that the company was well aware of the negative effects of their social media platforms on the mental health of their users, particularly young women. Despite Meta’s huge user base, the company has been facing a barrage of largely negative press over the past few weeks, and it seems that the timing of the rebrand may have been an attempt to shift attention towards new developments and away from the scandals.
While Meta did not have any actual new software to unveil, a promo video depicts a virtual environment in which a user can navigate typical Facebook functions like video calling and playing games over Messenger. Mark Zuckerberg did a multitude of interviews and a large amount of promotion for the rebrand, and while the comments about Zuckerberg himself were characteristically critical, the response to the metaverse itself seems generally positive.
For a company that already arguably holds too much power in the tech industry, does the development of the metaverse signal a definitive monopoly and abuse of power? And is the metaverse even a worthy investment or just a figment of one scifi writer’s imagination?