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City comment: Facebook takes Meta approach to reputation management

·2-min read
Mark Zuckerberg rebranding Facebook as Meta (VIA REUTERS)
Mark Zuckerberg rebranding Facebook as Meta (VIA REUTERS)

So farewell then Facebook, hello Meta.

Mark Zuckerberg rebranded his social media company last night, putting all his chips behind a bet on the ‘metaverse’ — a futuristic virtual reality world that Zuckerberg hopes to will into existence. The artist formerly known as Facebook is now Meta.

Zuckerberg’s 90 minute virtual presentation sounded like a clip from Star Trek: there was talk of teleporting, holograms, and communicating “across different layers of reality”. Clips of what this might look like resembled the Sims played on Google Glass, which readers will remember flopped.

Zuck readily admits his metaverse vision is at least 5 years from reality (virtual or otherwise). So why go all in now?

The billionaire futurist says this is a signal of intent and all about putting people first. The metaverse will free us from our screen addiction, not worsen it, and enable more genuine human connection, so he says.

It’s hard not to focus on the context. Facebook is mired in a whistleblower scandal. Controversy is something the business is very familiar with by now and Facebook’s reputation has taken a beating over the last few years. Like a techno-utopian Gatsby, Zuckerberg is beating ceaselessly into the future to outrun his problems.

It’s a flawed strategy. As Zuckerberg readily admits, a new virtual world will prompt concerns about who controls and regulates it. He — and Nick Clegg, who made an amusing cameo in last night’s presentation — insist that the Silicon Valley giant is ready to collaborate and will be a responsible steward.

The track record suggests otherwise. Governance and regulation have been the consistent thorn in Facebook’s side for years. What makes the metaverse any different? The danger is it becomes just another toxic platform with all the bad habits and lax standard of the past.

Like the company’s crypto project Diem, Facebook — sorry, Meta — may find its new virtual reality project faces opposition even before it gets off the ground. Regulators and consumers alike should keep a close eye on the company to make sure it is not repeating old mistakes.

Read More

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