Developing a solid public relations strategy proved successful for Frances Haugen. The Facebook product manager turned whistleblower let loose volumes of internal documents at first to The Wall Street Journal, then to major association news outlets. To maximize the impact of the rollout, it was carefully timed, closely guarded, and gradually conducted. Before appearing on 60 Minutes in October, Haugen began leaking anonymously and portraying herself as a selfless corporate dissident. In September and November, the Facebook leaks dominated news headlines, which is a testament to Haugen’s campaign. The revelations essentially confirmed pre-existing suspicions and scandals.
In his report, Haugen found that Facebook prioritized high-profile accounts that violated its rules, that Instagram was harmful to young girls, that Facebook’s products, especially its ads, made people angry, and that it did little to stem violent content outside the United States. Facebook responded with an aggressive defense, for which former employees publicly criticized it. The crisis was dubbed by media scholar Siva Vaidhyanathan as Facebook’s “most destructive PR catastrophe to date.”
In different opinions, the metaverse is either overhyped science fiction or the next evolution of the internet, which you can currently experience via virtual reality headsets. For Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg, the metaverse is the embodiment of science fiction – so wonderful, in fact, that he rebranded Facebook into a company called Meta Platforms Inc., a company that exists in the metaverse with an Aristotelian name. A company like Meta can no longer be built on acquisitions, and the renaming signals to investors that a lot of funding will be required to build up Oculus, the virtual reality platform Facebook purchased for $2.3 billion in 2014.
Zuckerberg’s Metaverse, however, is completely different from his current one. During a presentation in October to more than 3 billion people, Meta mostly demonstrated vaporware, meaning software and experiences that have not yet been created. Despite being technically premature, Zuckerberg’s Meta pivot was deftly done.
Facebook’s coverage of the metaverse was completely altered by his involvement, a move that both tech and media have deemed consequential. Ultimately, if the metaverse is going to be built under the control of Meta, and it wants to do it according to its own taste and on its terms, then that’s an issue that can’t be overlooked. Despite the irony, the consequences of abuse, mismanagement, perversion, and the sheer assault of corporate power are likely to be much greater if Facebook builds the metaverse it envisions. The potential of meta is much greater than that of Facebook.
Metaverse plans will be reality checked once the breathless coverage ends.