Facebook’s Meta-morphosis is Social Media at its Darkest

The popular social media app Facebook has rebranded itself as Meta. (Courtesy of Facebook)

The popular social media app Facebook has rebranded itself as Meta. (Courtesy of Facebook)

Right on the heels of a whistleblower, social media giant Facebook has unveiled its latest effort to rebrand itself as Meta. While it is clear Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg wants to prepare Facebook for a more tech-centric future, it is even clearer that he wants to do so directly following a plethora of issues that have plagued the site. 

Former employee-turned Facebook whistleblower Frances Haugen accused Zuckerberg of knowingly ignoring hate speech, insisting the site’s failure to respond marked an attack on American democracy. She also claimed Zuckerberg was aware of the harmful effects Facebook has on users’ mental health, particularly among its youngest users.

Since Facebook’s inception, Mark Zuckerburg has been at the center of the empire; the newly rebranded Meta will be no different. In 2004, Facebook’s mission was to promote and encourage a stronger global connection. Zuckerburg wanted to create an easy way to bridge  people and entire communities together. The social networking site pioneered the concept of the “like button,” allowing users to instantaneously express their approval of certain ideas, topics or profiles. With social innovations like the “like button,” users felt they had an open, honest and fair say in an increasingly-online world. This sense of trust helped bolster the site’s mainstream appeal. Yet after years of scandals, a whistleblower and a name change in 2021, it seems like Zuckerberg would rather blur the company’s image than change it. 

The selling point Zuckerberg is pursuing is not digital worldly connection, but digital immersion, where virtual experiences meet reality. For example, in his company’s founder’s letter, Zuckerberg’s metaverse emphasizes the future ability to be present through hologram technology when not physically able. The introduction of hologram technology could even suggest an environmentally conscious approach, promising to cut the collective carbon footprint and reduce factory production. 

This mention of holograms might sound promising in our ever-digitizing world. However, it serves as another not-so-masterful aversion to the company’s real problems spanning from privacy concerns to election interference in 2016. The rebranding’s intent is not to address the matters raised by the whistleblower, but to distract users from Facebook’s unremedied issues.

Nearly all of Facebook’s scandals have been linked to the common issues of privacy and mental health concerns. The earliest example of a privacy concern occurred in 2006 with the introduction of a newsfeed feature to the site, which was a hub purportedly focused on increasing user accessibility to friends’ profiles. 

However, this feed generated more division than unity. Users blasted the site for broadcasting nearly every aspect of their personal lives, as posted to their profiles, to be seen on the newsfeed, and called the feature intrusive. With regards to mental health, the problem is equally as disconcerting. Data shows that Facebook’s psychological costs range from increased feelings of social envy to exacerbated depression.

With more and more awareness of Facebook’s questionable practices, this rebranding could not have come at a worse time. Zuckerberg seems more preoccupied with the media’s depiction of Facebook than with fixing the site’s clear adverse effects. The rebranding does nothing to reassure users that their privacy is being protected online or to address the mental health implications mentioned by the whistleblower.

 The rebranding is a way of throwing a fresh coat of paint over Facebook’s already crumbling wall. Zuckerberg wants users to believe that Facebook is moving on to new domains, so users won’t focus on it’s issues. The blatant failure of the company to remedy its issues, and its attempt to get away with this failure, sets a dark precedent for the future of social media. 

Facebook’s rebranding relays the message that social media companies never truly need to concern themselves with the plights of their users. Zuckerberg is treating this rebranding like a band-aid, attempting to keep users pacified despite potential information exploitation and harmful mental health effects. After all, it is much easier to make empty promises of advanced connectivity than it is to fix the platform’s serious issues. 

With Facebook looking to rebrand, it raises questions as to what other social media platforms will look to do from now on when they face rightful scrutiny. Snapchat’s response to mental health concerns included introducing a mental health service called “Here for You,” where users struggling with mental health can access helpful resources and content through the app. This is promising, but surely not enough to combat the mounting problem. The same could be said for Zuckerberg’s response to privacy concerns, since he has promised to shut down Facebook’s facial recognition service and delete the data it has collected on people’s faces as a result. 

Although the whistleblower is calling on Zuckerberg to step down from the company to bring about true change, it no longer matters who is in charge. The social media giants of the world now know what they need to do to keep their companies alive under the same toxic but profitable business practices — rebrand. 

However, rebranding does not necessarily guarantee success, as seen by the 68% of adults who express disinterest in Facebook’s new metaverse approach. Rather, it proves big tech companies are more interested in a rinse, lather, repeat approach to pacify users on social media than in taking the effort to cleanse the system of present issues.

Seeing how ingrained social media has become in our daily lives, and from a financial standpoint, it seems unlikely that the puppetmaster of social media will be taking the time to delve into and rectify the platform’s issues. It is likely that other companies will soon rebrand themselves following Facebook’s example. 

Facebook’s rebranding proves the puppetmaster of social media will never truly free us from its control, but will instead find new ways to pull our strings so we will all fall in line. Or really, online.

Noah Osborne, FCRH ’23, is a journalism major from Harlem, N.Y.