Facebook said on Thursday it would rebrand as Meta, a name change that comes as the company battles criticisms from Congress and regulators over its market power, its algorithmic decisions and the policing of abuses on its platforms.
The name change is meant to reflect the company’s shifting focus on its new Metaverse product, which chief executive Mark Zuckerberg announced during the company’s annual conference on virtual and augmented reality. The name change will not affect the name of the Facebook platform itself.
This is similar to how Google created a new parent company name, Alphabet, in 2015 to represent its shift beyond simply being a search engine.
“From now on, we’re going to be Metaverse first, not Facebook first,” Mr Zuckerberg said.
The company teased the announcement earlier on Thursday by covering up the sign in front of its headquarters with a tarp.
The metaverse, a term first coined in a dystopian novel three decades ago and now attracting buzz in Silicon Valley, refers broadly to the idea of a shared virtual environment which can be accessed by people using different devices.
Mr. Zuckerberg has increasingly been promoting the idea of Facebook, which has invested heavily in augmented and virtual reality, as a “metaverse” company rather than a social media one.
The current brand is “so tightly linked to one product that it can’t possibly represent everything that we’re doing today, let alone in the future,” he said.
“Over time, I hope that we are seen as a metaverse company and I want to anchor our work and our identity on what we’re building towards.”
As part of the plan, the Oculus brand, used for the company’s virtual reality products, will be retired from next year.
During the announcement, Mr Zuckerberg said that privacy and security would need to be built into the metaverse, but the technology company has faced increasing scrutiny in recent years from global lawmakers and regulators.
Some of Facebook’s biggest critics seemed unimpressed with the rebrand.
The Real Facebook Oversight Board, a watchdog group focused on the company, announced that it will keep its own name.
“Changing their name doesn’t change reality: Facebook is destroying our democracy and is the world’s leading peddler of disinformation and hate,” the group said in a statement.
“Their meaningless name change should not distract from the investigation, regulation and real, independent oversight needed to hold Facebook accountable.”
In the latest controversy, whistleblower and former Facebook employee Frances Haugen leaked documents which she said showed the company chose profit over user safety. Mr Zuckerberg this week said the documents were being used to paint a “false picture”.
The whistle-blower documents, which were first reported by The Wall Street Journal, show internal research and employee discussions on Instagram’s effects on the mental health of teenagers and whether Facebook stokes divisions, as well as its handling of activity around the January 6 Capitol riot and inconsistencies in content moderation for users around the globe.