Two weeks ago I asked if this time would be different when it comes to Facebook facing consequences for their behavior. A former employee claimed whistle blower status and shared internal documents that showed that Facebook was aware of the damage its product was causing and had covered much of it up. Among the worst of the revelations was that 87% of their resources are focused on addressing misinformation in the US. So as bad as what we are experiencing, it’s so much better than what they are doing to the rest of the world.
Since that time, the former project manager, Frances Haugen, has testified before additional government bodies in the US and Britain and has allowed journalists to access the more then 10,000 documents. As a result of this carefully orchestrated reveal, it’s demolished Facebook’s PR response, and proved that this will not be a one day story and will continue in the news over the coming months. It’s now clear that this time is different.
Facebook’s reputation has been irrefutably damaged by these disclosures among the general population and even among their employees. For many users, Facebook was a place to exchange photos and messages with friends and relatives. They saw a different product than what we learned about. Many will still continue to use their services, especially major advertisers, but more are holding their noses while doing so. 75% of iPhone users are now opting out of being tracked.
While it’s always been suspected that Facebook has ignored the many problems they’ve caused due to prioritizing engagement over safety, reading the words of their own management seriously destroys their credibility. It proves they have lied in the past. It embarrasses them and their employees. It puts them on the defensive. It invalidates all of their past testimony before Congress and the SEC. So even if there are no laws passed, they needed to move away from the Facebook name as quickly as possible so their employees can disassociate themselves from the toxicity and the company can more easily attract new employees. Which is what Mark Zuckerberg quickly did, changing their name to Meta, while moving their product focus to hardware. It’s basically, “Look over here,” and forget what’s there. It’s no coincidence the change came when it did.
Zuckerberg is panicked. They need a hardware platform of their own to use its software. He says the next wave of hardware innovation will be artificial reality that relies on wearable googles. But artificial reality devices for the consumer market is years away and there’s little assurance that there’s even a market for it. And does anyone trust Facebook to moderate behavior in a new digital metaverse?