Zuckerberg’s critics have claimed that Meta’s October 2021 rebrand was little more than a PR stunt to distract from the company’s woes.
“The embarrassing thing is that journalists and politicians fell for it,” says McNamee. “The conversation shifted to the metaverse being framed as the next big thing, rather than the train wreck that it actually is.” A meta-speaker called the claim “nonsense.”
Meta and Zuckerberg have insisted many of Haugen’s claims painted a “misrepresentation” about the company. The company has argued that the data it disclosed was mainly investigations conducted by the company as it attempted to combat damage.
But former Facebook insiders also believe in experienced PR: the meta relaunch gave the company a fresh start. A source says: “Mark has been impatient with the seedy and dirty compromises of running a massive social media platform. It’s a bit of escapism to do something innovative.”
Not everyone agrees. “They put their money where their mouth is,” notes a second source. “Mark had a vision and ended up being an engineer and a techie.”
The CEO’s commitment is so serious that he’s reportedly told employees to start calling themselves “metamates.”
Whatever the truth, the stakes are high for Facebook, Meta, and Zuckerberg. Tens of billions of dollars must be poured into cutting-edge technology without a clear path to making money.
While the bread and butter of Facebook and Instagram has made billions of dollars from advertising, there isn’t yet an obvious parallel in the metaverse.
As Brian Wieser, advertising and technology analyst at GroupM, notes, “It’s so far from being a reality.”
“Paid media in the traditional sense doesn’t exist,” he says, adding, “Eventually people will just start relabeling in-game ads as metaverse ads.”
Meta has realized it could be left behind if it doesn’t act now, a former employee says. “There’s this feeling that meta alone is dominant, but Facebook has always said it almost died in 2012 because of cell phones. The next thing might wipe it out. That’s the paranoia. Not just the next app, but the next computing paradigm.”
Adds Wills of Disguise: “Hundreds of millions of people are taking part [virtual events], so that’s the threat meta sees. They say, ‘Okay, we need to evolve these worlds to get the attention of this younger generation’.”
A Meta spokesman said: “We still have a long way to go before the Metaverse is realized. What Mark shared in 2021 was a statement of intent – an ambitious vision of where we think the entire industry is going and where we think things will go.”
Zuckerberg prepares for the fight of his life. In a video posted online recently, he pulls on his boxing gloves and executes a series of punches and kicks before throwing pro UFC fighter Khai Wu to the ground.
Video of Zuckerberg’s sparring, which he says is helping him cool off from the rigors of running meta, comes as he prepares for the company’s Connect conference next month. Zuckerberg will have to show some of the fruits of the last year of research and development of the metaverse.
New versions of Meta’s Quest VR headset and his more advanced Project Cambria device could be revealed. But a more fully realized version of Zuckerberg’s vision is a long way off.
Zuckerberg’s risk is that the Metaverse may reverse the decline of Meta’s other social media apps. He must convince billions of people to enter the metaverse – and then find a way to dominate the new medium.
Meanwhile, Zuckerberg seems increasingly isolated. The CEO often works from his $100 million Hawaiian mansion and some of his closest allies have resigned.
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