Meet ‘Meta’: Facebook gets a new name amid ethical firestorm

WATCH: Meta: Facebook's rebrand met with skepticism amid company's ethical firestorm

Facebook‘s new name is now “Meta.”

CEO Mark Zuckerberg announced the company rebrand as he opened the company’s annual conference on virtual and augmented reality on Thursday. He emphasized what he described as the privacy and safety that will be built into the metaverse — effectively, a shared virtual world.

In a statement published online, the company said the new name “brings together our apps and technologies under one new company brand.”

“Meta’s focus will be to bring the metaverse to life and help people connect, find communities and grow businesses,” the company said in the statement.

“The metaverse will feel like a hybrid of today’s online social experiences, sometimes expanded into three dimensions or projected into the physical world.”

Facebook continues to battle criticism over its market power, its content moderation practices and harms linked to its social media platforms. The tech giant, which reports about 2.9 billion monthly users, has faced increasing scrutiny in recent years from global lawmakers and regulators.

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Click to play video: 'Facebook Papers reveal company workers’ anger over policies, questionable ethics'
Facebook Papers reveal company workers’ anger over policies, questionable ethics

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In the latest controversy, whistleblower and former Facebook employee Frances Haugen leaked documents which she said showed the company chose profit over user safety.

Zuckerberg earlier this week said the documents were being used to paint a “false picture.”

Two Canadian MPs last week urged the federal government to act to regulate the tech giant, which they said has repeatedly demonstrated it lacks the will or the capacity to regulate itself.

“It is past time for stronger platform governance and it is past time for greater accountability,” said Liberal MP Nathaniel Erskine-Smith in an interview with Global News.

“I think it’s a call to arms for public rules.”

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Erskine-Smith specifically pointed to the company’s algorithms as a pressing area in need of regulation in order to force greater transparency and accountability over the kind of content it shows to users, following revelations in the Facebook Papers that the site’s algorithms promote extremist content.

READ MORE: Facebook Papers are a ‘call to arms’ over pressing need to regulate: MPs

The metaverse, a term first coined in a dystopian novel three decades ago and now attracting buzz in Silicon Valley, refers broadly to a shared virtual environment which can be accessed by people using different devices.

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.

In a letter published on the company website, Zuckerberg said he believes the metaverse “can enable better social experiences than anything that exists today, and we will dedicate our energy to helping achieve its potential.”

“This period has also been humbling because as big of a company as we are, we’ve also learned what it’s like to build on other platforms,” Zuckerberg wrote.

“Living under their rules has profoundly shaped my views on the tech industry.”

The CEO, speaking during the live-streamed Facebook Connect event, gave examples of privacy and safety controls that would be needed in the metaverse, such as the ability to block someone from appearing in your space. Zuckerberg is betting that the metaverse will be the next big computing platform, calling it “the successor to the mobile internet.”

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The whistleblower 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 teens and whether Facebook stokes divisions, as well as its handling of activity around the Jan. 6 Capitol riot and inconsistencies in content moderation for users around the globe.

The company gave a slew of updates for its VR and AR products. It said it would this year launch a way for people using its Oculus VR headset to call friends using Facebook Messenger and for people to invite others to a social version of their home, dubbed “Horizon Home,” to talk and play games as avatars.

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Facebook also said it would introduce a way for Oculus Quest users to use different 2D apps like Slack, Dropbox and Facebook while in this “Horizon Home” VR space.

The company, which began a beta test of its virtual meeting spaces “Horizon Workrooms” earlier this year, said it was working on ways of customizing these with company logos and designs and said it would be bringing more work capabilities into consumer Quest devices. It also announced new fitness offerings for Oculus Quest users.

Facebook said this week that its hardware division Facebook Reality Labs, which is responsible for AR and VR efforts, would become a separate reporting unit and that its investment in it would reduce this year’s total operating profit by about $10 billion.

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This year, Facebook created a product team focused on the metaverse and it recently announced plans to hire 10,000 employees in Europe over the next five years to work on the effort.

Facebook also said it would run a $150 million education program aimed at helping AR and VR creators and developers.

With files from Reuters.

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