Facebook on Thursday announced it changed its name to Meta, part of a strategic shift to emphasize the development of its virtual world while its main social network business is in crisis.
Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg made the announcement at Connect, the company's annual hardware event where it talks about products like the Portal video devices and Oculus headsets.
The rebranding - pegged to a virtual world and hardware known as the "metaverse" - comes amid a broader effort to shift attention away from revelations that it knew its platform was causing a litany of social harms. The Facebook social network is not changing its name.
"From now on, we're going to be the metaverse first. Not Facebook first," Zuckerberg said in his keynote. "Facebook is one of the most used products in the world. But increasingly, it doesn't encompass everything that we do. Right now, our brand is so tightly linked to one product that it can't possibly represent everything we are doing."
A whistleblower has came forward with tens of thousands of documents demonstrating how the company was aware that it caused polarization in numerous countries, led people down rabbit holes of misinformation, and failed to stop a violent network that led to the Jan. 6 insurrection. In response, lawmakers around the world have threatened new regulation for the tech industry, as well as demanding more information from Facebook on what it knew and when.
The documents were obtained by a consortium of news organizations, including The Washington Post, and were provided to Congress and the Securities and Exchange Commission in response to a whistleblower lawsuit.
Facebook has said that the Facebook Papers are a "coordinated effort to selectively use leaked documents to paint a false picture of our company."
Facebook was already trying to change the subject even before The Wall Street Journal first reported on the documents. Zuckerberg has told colleagues that he no longer wants to be the face of the company's headaches in Washington and elsewhere, according to reporting by The Post, and is focused on transitioning Facebook to become a "metaverse."
The term, which is derived from science fiction and has become popular among some venture capitalists in Silicon Valley, refers to tech services as virtual interconnected worlds.
Since starting as a social network in a college dorm room 17 years ago, Facebook has become a conglomerate encompassing Instagram, WhatsApp, and Messenger, as well as a nascent online payments and hardware businesses. That has led some in the tech industry, as well as employees, to speculate that the company was long overdue for a name change.
Zuckerberg's keynote was filled with a dizzying array of scenes that showcased the company's vision for the metaverse. It included Zuckerberg doing his favorite water sport, hydrofoiling, with friends in a virtual environment, and then jumping into work meetings from a virtual home office, boxing with virtual avatars, and working out on a virtual lily pad.
In a letter on the company's website posted shortly after the keynote, Zuckerberg said that the future would be "an embodied internet where you're in the experience, not just looking at it. We call this the metaverse, and it will touch every product we build."
He said privacy and safety would be built into the new generation of products "from day one" - a clear nod to Facebook's record of eroding trust.
Facebook isn't the first Silicon Valley company to rebrand itself. Google changed its parent company name to Alphabet in 2015 in an attempt to unify a corporate behemoth that encompassed not only search and display advertising but also driverless cars and a life sciences division. Snapchat changed its name to Snap Inc. in an attempt to rebrand itself as a camera company.
Zuckerberg said this summer that the company would eventually become known as a metaverse, then later announced a smart glasses partnership with Ray-Ban and a plan to use its virtual reality headsets for work-related videoconferencing. He promoted a longtime friend who heads the hardware division, Andrew Bosworth, to become the company's new chief technology officer.
Later, the company announced it would create 10,000 "metaverse-related" jobs. Zuckerberg said this week on the company's earnings call that the hardware division would become a new line item in the company's financial reports, and that investments in it would shave $10 billion from its profits in 2020.
In his blog post, Zuckerberg said that the name meta was inspired by his love of the classics, and that it comes from the Greek word "beyond."
"For me, it symbolizes that there is always more to build, and there is always a next chapter to the story," he wrote.