A Name Change Can’t Fix Broken Facebook | News, Sports, Jobs
A friend recently applied for a job at Facebook and the first interview question was, “Well, what do we do?” The now obvious answer should have been: “Change your name”.
The announcement on Thursday that Facebook – the company, not the dominant social media platform that is part of it – will now be known as the Meta was a storytelling crisis management lesson, but not a new one. When all the other PR strategies fail to distract from, say, your habit of dumping toxic substances into people’s lungs, call yourself something else.
At least that’s what the mega-company hopes.
I say this as a longtime science writer for a crisis management company that represented a company now called Altria. Like Facebook, the former Philip Morris was under fire – more like Camp Fire in Northern California – once the company was exposed for knowing its cigarette products were killing people.
Also, like Facebook, PM, as the employees called the company, was more than a tobacco peddler. She owned, among other brands, Kraft Foods and Maxwell House Coffee, and chose the name Altria (Latin “altus” for “high”) to reflect her “peak” performance. In 2003, Philip Morris joined the ash heap of history.
What’s in a name? Not much, really. Altria still sells cigarettes around the world. But many people, mostly lawyers, have gotten rich from lawsuits against the men and women of Marlboro. Future generations won’t know much about Altria’s history, leaving mainly stockbrokers to talk about the business.
Likewise, Facebook’s decision to change the conversation about how its policies have caused damage – from spreading misinformation to attracting children to harmful practices – will do little to change opinion. public, at least in the short term.
In his Facebook audience announcement of “Connect,” the company’s annual idea-sharing conference, founder Mark Zuckerberg said he’s not trying to distract from the controversies. He just wanted his business name to reflect his many interests (including WhatsApp and Instagram) and his grand vision of creating a metaverse that a billion people can become avatars and engage in virtually.
Zuckerberg admitted he’s at least a decade away from realizing this dream, which he says he first imagined in college. But whatever. What is 10 years like when you are building a new world where people can shop, attend meetings, play chess, attend parties and, well, you can imagine all kinds of potential virtual adventures? .
One can also easily imagine a virtual world of bad actors, abuse, and unintended consequences that would pale current concerns about teens with self-esteem issues in comparison. As recently revealed in internal documents produced by whistleblower Frances Haugen, some teens have reported increased suicidal thoughts due to their experience on Instagram. In a deeply immersive metaverse, could their avatars lead them to even darker places?
Meanwhile, “The Facebook Papers,” a series of news articles by a consortium of 17 news organizations and based on corporate documents provided to Congress, are full of reasons not to trust Meta more than people don’t trust Facebook. They detail not only how groups on Facebook helped spread violence on January 6, but also how human traffickers used its platforms. Let’s just say the criminals found Zuckerberg’s hospitality to suit their needs.
Putting lipstick on this pig probably won’t improve the stench of the slop Zuckerberg is in. And, yes, the responsibility lies with him not only because he’s the CEO, but also because he’s Facebook’s first and last word. Zuckerberg is Meta, in other words.
So, one is inclined to say that Zuckerberg’s claim to have been humiliated by recent events stinks a bit of rubbish. His critics can be forgiven if they do not accept his claims that recent lessons learned are being incorporated into his virtual plans.
It’s a story that is both classic and all too familiar to the world of boy geniuses, high tech billionaires, and ambition detached from everyday reality. Zuckerberg’s pride is both the essence of American politics and the Greek mythology he admires.
Zuckerberg might well consider himself Prometheus, the genius who stole fire from the gods and gave it to mankind. But there was a harsh punishment for betraying the trust of the brash Prometheus, and, in this, a moral not to be ignored. If I had been his crisis manager, I would have suggested Zuckerberg change his tone before his company name.