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Facebook changes company name to Meta as it shifts focus to building its 'metaverse'

AILSA CHANG, HOST:

OK. Facebook has a new name. CEO Mark Zuckerberg announced today that the company is rebranding itself as Meta. It'll be built on a futuristic, immersive social experience known as the metaverse.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

MARK ZUCKERBERG: Today we're seen as a social media company, but in our DNA, we're a company that builds technology to connect people. And the metaverse is the next frontier.

CHANG: The metaverse comes as the company is being widely criticized for how it's managed the products it has now, namely Facebook and Instagram. NPR's Shannon Bond covers Facebook - or, shall we say, Meta - and joins us now. Hey, Shannon.

SHANNON BOND, BYLINE: Hey, Ailsa.

CHANG: All right. Can you just give us the basics here? What exactly is happening to this company?

BOND: Yeah. So just to be clear, like, Facebook, the social network people use - that's still going to be Facebook. What's changing is the corporate name, and that's going to change to Meta. And so you can have this company, Meta, that owns these social media apps like Facebook, Instagram, WhatsApp. And then it's also doing all of this work in virtual reality that's about building these experiences that will make up this thing they are calling the metaverse.

CHANG: Right - the metaverse. What is the metaverse, Shannon? Like, why is this such a big deal to Zuckerberg?

BOND: Yeah. I mean, this term comes from science fiction, but it is popular right now in Silicon Valley. And it's used to describe these sort of immersive digital experiences where, like, you can do all kinds of things in real life but online and in virtual reality, whether going to concerts, meeting with your boss, working out. This already exists to some degree with video games like Fortnite. So today Zuckerberg emceed a glitzy presentation at this Connect conference the company holds, showing it all off while also admitting this is years away in the future.

What I think is also important to understand about this, though, Ailsa, is this is also about the company's need to appeal to younger people. Facebook the social network, you know, is rapidly becoming the social network for old people. The teens are on TikTok. Zuckerberg knows this. He's been trying to redirect the company to chase after younger users, both on its existing social apps and now in these new virtual experiences that they see as the future. And if they can't do that, that's a real existential problem for this company.

CHANG: Absolutely. Well, with this reorganization, is Zuckerberg's role at the company changing at all?

BOND: No. I mean, he was the CEO of Facebook. Now he'll be the CEO of Meta - no hill change there, right? He still holds enormous control over this company. He has the majority of voting shares. And I think we saw today his enthusiasm for this vision of the metaverse suggests he's going to be very involved, very hands-on with these new products as we've seen him be with his social network. So this is still a Mark Zuckerberg production.

CHANG: OK. Well, as we said earlier, the company is in the middle of a crisis over how Facebook affects young people, as well as, you know, the extent of misinformation on its platform. So what do you make of the timing of this whole announcement?

BOND: Yeah. I mean, Facebook will say this has been in the works for a while. But, right, of course, in just the last month, this company has been battered by news stories stemming from a trove of leaked internal documents. It's being questioned by Congress, by regulators, even by the U.K. parliament today. I spoke with Prashant Malaviya. He's a marketing professor at Georgetown University. And he says with everything going on, no matter what the motivation is behind this name change, it kind of just ends up looking like the company is trying to run away from all this bad stuff.

PRASHANT MALAVIYA: And the question really is, you know, is the timing simply unfortunate? Or is the timing actually misguided, that they are - they think that they can actually do this in order to overcome the negativity that is surrounding them right now?

BOND: And look, Ailsa. You know, this company - Facebook, Meta, whatever you want to call it - it's been through many crises of its own making. Judging by its record profits, its business has not suffered, but its brand certainly has. So I think what's certain is no matter what it's called, it's going to face the same scrutiny and criticism over everything that it builds.

CHANG: And we should note that Facebook or Meta is among NPR's financial supporters. That is NPR's Shannon Bond. Thank you, Shannon.

BOND: Thank you.

(SOUNDBITE OF DAVID KITT'S "HAMMER TIME") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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