Mark Zuckerberg has it all figured out: a balm to his billionaire woes.
No, the penny hasn’t dropped on how to sign up the last remaining people on blue earth to his grand social-mediapolis. (Billion-dollar idea: paradrop iPhone 12s on the Serengeti with the preloaded Facebook app and beam 5G via drone across the savanna. I’ll take my check in a lump sum—no stock options—please.)
And no, Zuckerberg hasn’t fine-tuned the perfect perm routine to mimic Romulus’s wavy mop.
What the Facebook founder needs is the pestering monkeys off his back. The merde-flinging simians include just about every rival power imaginable: governments, including busybody lawmakers too grey-haired to tell Facebook from the Yellow Pages; journalists, many who blame their lame prospects on Facebook’s notorious News Feed; high-hatted think-tank fellows who hold Zuckerberg responsible for our frayed public discourse; and fellow Big Techers who just want a piece of the digital-ad pie.
Zuck’s got a plan to unstuck these nuisances: quote the doomed Capulet and ask, what’s in a name? Zuckerberg is renaming—or, “rebranding” in marketing parlance—his creation.
Facebook will become more than a virtual book of faces: it will, as Zuckerberg told The Verge over the summer, morph into a “metaverse company,” which sounds so downright diabolical that it’s a wonder a Kyle Reese-like herald hasn’t popped out of a time wormhole in Menlo Park to warn us of the coming corporate dystopian evolution.
Zuckerberg just issued his onomastic decree: “Facebook” is now “Meta.” Or, more precisely, “Meta Platforms Inc.” No, no, Leonardo DiCaprio isn’t about to plunge into your grandmother’s FB photostream to find pictures with Catch Me If You Can playing on cable TV in the background. We’re supposed to memory-bin the name Facebook and just call the social channel Meta, and think of its new Möbius strip icon and not the superimposed capital-F on periwinkle.
After this d/b/a switcheroo, Zuckerberg will no doubt wish to be addressed as “Liege Lord All-Powerful God-Emperor Deus Almighty Grand Duke His High Holiness Mark Zuckerberg the First, CEO of Meta.” Meta will henceforth legally sire Facebook and its unruly siblings—Instagram, WhatsApp, and other less-known relations. With a new name, Zuckerberg is hoping to start clean, to no longer be synonymous with Facebook, but rather be viewed as its trustworthy patriarch, trying to instill better ethics within his mischievous progeny.
The gambit may be a come off. But, it will likely falter, for reasons you can Google about on, well, Google’s attempt to sever its eponymous image. If you can name what Google’s parent’s name is, and all the sub-businesses under its auspices, you probably accidentally clicked an errant link on The Wall Street Journal’s site. Kindly hit the “back” browser button, or, even better, grab a plush hassock, prop your feet up, and peruse your new favorite writer’s past purple prose.
Zuckerberg can rechristen his empire, but he can’t outrun the public’s associating him with Facebook.
Jesse Eisenberg nabbed an Oscar nomination for portraying a cold, anti-social, spectrumy college dropout-cum-internet autarch. The rep was forever concretized by Aaron Sorkin—it can’t be shaken.
But why is Zuckerberg, pockets stuffed with more cash than he knows what to do with, the overseer of a global online agora, trying to duck his own success? THE FATE OF DEMOCRACY (histrionic caps added for super-important emphasis), that’s why! A tranche of internal company docs has been handed over to over a dozen media agencies by a tattling former employee, Frances Haugen, whose name sounds like that of a well-heeled sassy love interest in a middlebrow detective thriller. Haugen testified earlier this month before Congress about Facebook’s less than candid dealings with government regulators. She did a repeat performance before Parliament just a week ago.
The documents, which mostly featured communication among disgruntled Facebook functionaries, contained a shocking revelation: Facebook exists to make money by giving people what they want! Quelle horreur!
That’s not how consumer satisfaction is framed, however. Facebook isn’t a matchless communication hub, but is actually a fomenter of fascism according to The Atlantic editor Adrienne LaFrance. So she concluded after poring through reams of inter-company chatter. LaFrance was kind enough to summarize her takeaway in what are definitely not overdrawn terms: “these documents leave little room for doubt about Facebook’s crucial role in advancing the cause of authoritarianism in America and around the world.”
Well now! Next you’ll tell us Zuckerberg’s master plan is making the Acela run on time!
LaFrance isn’t exaggerating in her portrayal of Facebook and its devilish honcho as enemies of freedom. She holds the social media network as singularly responsible for the January 6th attack at the Capitol, and hapless attempt to prevent Joe Biden’s certification as incoming president. “It’s easy to see Facebook as instrumental to the attack on January 6,” she writes, with a just-trust-me certainty. How easy? Facebook was one of the main platforms the Capitol stormers used to coordinate the rally-turned-riot. President Trump, for his part, used Facebook extensively to promote the unproven notion that he was robbed of a second term.
“Facebook makes it much easier for authoritarians to win,” LaFrance infers, despite Trump’s obvious failure to reverse his loss. Still, one crummy day in America’s resilient history shouldn’t be enough to condemn the entire platform as a tyrant’s carnival. Facebook’s promotion of the “stop the steal” narrative was not an isolated bogey. There’s a pattern—one perfectly correspondent with human nature. By being a node of instantaneous connectivity, Facebook gives users exactly what they want: confirmation of their priors in the most emotionally resonating ways possible. And what’s the most potent human emotion online? Red hot rage, of course!
LaFrance notes Facebook tweaked its algorithm last year to promote posts that drew a large number of reactions, including the sunset-colored “angry” emoji. “Anger-inducing content didn’t spread just because people were more likely to share things that made them angry; the algorithm gave anger-inducing content an edge,” LaFrance writes, as if she’s a cryptid hunter breaking the massive scoop that Angry Online Man™ does indeed exist.
Anyone who’s worked in online publishing over the past decade knows that, just as in traditional print-and-TV journalism, sensationalism sells. And Facebook, by virtue of its continuously refreshing News Feed, was a rapid media mediator—perhaps the fastest and most wide-reaching in history, given its scale.
Facebook fed users the exact kind of content they wanted.
The algorithm rewarded fabulists who could get people’s backs up in the most direct way possible. And Facebook junkies liked it, craved it. As Faulkner said, no one individual can look at the truth, nor do they prefer to. Confirmation bias beats objective observation every time.
LaFrance should twig this. Her publication caters to a political demographic hungry to read about why Donald Trump was the Duse’s spawn. But bias qua bias isn’t her beef. What LaFrance is truly concerned about is that Facebook acts as a digitized homophilic piazza for everyone, including the right. If Facebook’s top performing pages were Paul Krugman and the anti-racist dunce, and not Ben Shapiro and Breitbart, she wouldn’t bother reading its company Slack logs. But Facebook hosts wrongthink—that makes it a problem.
Facebook is a mere conduit for the febrile paranoia that has plagued America since the Puritans staked out Plymouth as the new God-fearing haven. LaFrance and her journo ilk are concerned their shade of paranoia—that Republicans are neo-secessionists hell bent on resurrecting human bondage, and that Trump is a Russian stooge being blackmailed by a fast women-and-whiz tape—has to compete with discomforting notion that the current president is too handsy with innocent colleens.
To paraphrase Lonesome Rhodes, Facebook is people, in all their multitudes, jumble-minded eccentricities, and, well, meta-level cognitive dissonances. Zuckerberg only gave us a massive tin-can lattice to talk, share, commiserate, trade baby pictures, and debate whether Epstein was knocked off by Hillary disguised in a prison-guard uniform. For all that trouble, he’s being forced to shroud and rename his brainchild.
Zuckerberg should know better by now. You feed the envious part of your dignity, they come back baying for more.