MARK ZUCKERBERG was the future once. No one embodied the late-noughties’ promise of world-changing interconnectivity offered by social media better than the Harvard dropout whose tech company was supposed to help democratise communication, topple dictators and empower us all.
But the Facebook story hasn’t quite worked out that way. With more than 2.5 billion users and a suite of products that includes WhatsApp and Instagram, the social network has conquered the world. However, Zuckerberg, 37, has gone from tech saviour to pariah — his company accused of everything from undermining democracy and collaborating with autocrats to triggering a teenage mental health crisis and abetting human trafficking. Today, Facebook been accused of helping promote censorship in Kazakhstan, by allowing the state to flag “illegal” online content.
Now Zuckerberg has sought to flip the script with a rebrand. Facebook, he announced last week, will henceforth be known as Meta. The move, he said, was part of a “transition from people seeing us as primarily being a social media company to being a metaverse company”. In layman’s terms, the metaverse is a sort of 3D version of the internet. Instead of sitting in front of screens, scrolling through newsfeeds, you will be able to “walk around” the metaverse using a VR headset, app or AR glasses. This will create a virtual world of work, play and shopping.
It’s an idea with endless potential, and certainly the markets adored the announcement. After the rebrand, Facebook’s stock rose four per cent — good news for the company which lost $7 billion last month during an outage that saw Facebook, WhatsApp and Instagram affected for hours.
Zuckerberg has announced that it is to invest $10 billion in building that metaverse. In its promise of the transformative power of technology, the move is a return to its founding ethos but sounds positively dystopian.
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